The Cornell Lab Bird Academy Discussion Groups Joy of Birdwatching Activities: Bird ID Practice

    • Carolyn
      Participant
      Chirps: 11
      My feeders and larger garden are on the east side so in the morning I am looking into the rising sun.  Early morning and overcast days it's bright and difficult to see colors so I am working on learning birds from their silhouettes - a challenge with the finches.  The Downy woodpecker and Norther Flicker are easy because the Flicker is huge compared to the Downy and I've learned to gauge that in relationship to the suet feeder and seed cylinder.  I used to have both Downey and Hairy woodpeckers in eastern Washington and finally learned to gauge the beak length in relation to the head. One of my favorite birds is the the chickadee: I have Blacked capped and Chesnut backed here. They are larger and rounder through the breast than the humming birds and smaller than sparrows and tend to dart about from branch to feeder and back to branch or bush.  Both types have black caps on their heads and white cheeks that spread in a V from beak to back on their cheeks.  The Chestnut backed look like they are wearing a rust colored vest and the Blacked capped are grey brown or buffy yellowish underneath.  I had noticed that a few of mine had a cheek with a curve between white and black along the upper side of their head as opposed to a straight V line and I've learned that those are like the eastern version which also includes the yellowish undersides, so we have a mix of eastern and western types  here  now - a fact I learned doing this lesson.
    • Bud
      Participant
      Chirps: 2
      This gobbler and hens are relatively common in some areas of St. Louis County Missouri. He works so hard to get the attention of the hens and they seem to simply ignore him. DSC_0233_2
    • Bud
      Participant
      Chirps: 2
      Baltimore Oriole that we were able to enjoy for about 3 days until he left. South St. Louis, Mo.DSC_0196_3
    • Carolyn
      Participant
      Chirps: 1
      I saw a Baltimore oriole and a wild turkey
    • Patrick
      Participant
      Chirps: 8
      Today in my yard I had to Morning Doves a male and a female, but I wasn't sure what they were looking for let me know if anyone has any ideas.
    • Kenneth R
      Participant
      Chirps: 6
      Activity 1: The Steller's Jay and California Scrub Jays which are so prevalent in our area, while (sort of) having similar colors, are easy to differentiate by shape due to the Steller's pompadour-like crown. Activity 2: The Varied Thrush, and Black-headed Grosbeak are easily confused for me due to the similar colors; and throw in the American Robin, especially when they all are moving, and things get messy:-) I find that the patterns (like the Varied Thrush's necklace) can really help distinguish birds with similar colors and size and shape. Activity 3: The Scrub Jay and Northern Flickers were both foraging on the ground in a nearby meadow today, but it seems the Flicker was looking for food, while the Jay may have been looking for nesting material. And the Acorn Woodpeckers seem to be ...well looking for acorns.:-) Activity 4: One of my favorites is the Acorn Woodpecker with [1] their clown-ish call (hee haw, hee haw), [2] their red cap, [3] their always seeming to move in groups and [4] the flash of white on their wings when they are in flight.
    • Gabrielle
      Participant
      Chirps: 6
      ACTIVITY 3: 1. We watched 2 crows picking up popcorn spilled near a picnic bench. They tried to fill their beak with as many pieces as possible. It was funny to see them dropping almost as many pieces as they picked up. We just thought they were being greedy. Later, we noticed one of the crows fly into a nest. Then we watched the crow feed its babies several times as it flew back and forth with more food. 2. We watched a brown creeper hopping up tree trunks in search of insects, then flying quickly down to start over again. 3. We watched a hairy woodpecker eating from out suet feeder.
    • Kathleen
      Participant
      Chirps: 12
      Activity 4: Pick your favorite bird, and see if you can describe it using at least three of the bird ID strategies (size and shape, color pattern and markings, behavior, habitat and range, and sounds). Share your description in the discussion. One of my favorite birds is one I see 3-4 times a year-The Pileated Woodpecker. He is not quite as big as a crow [which we have lots of] but I look to see if it's "Woody" every time a big shadow goes over.  He has a crest--crows don't. He [and she] come for one thing--a felled conifer that we left for a nurse log.  They settle in and begin to drill, and the pieces of wood start flying, and the bugs start disappearing.  They walk up the tree to peck, or stand on the ground, as you can see. They often come together as a pair, something I really like.  Stellars Jays do too. When they call you can hear them throughout the neighborhood.  They are shy but I got some pictures of them. 3 Woody 6-19-2019 Pair of Pileated 8-9-16 crop Pileated climbs a tree 8-9-16 crop
      • Patrick
        Participant
        Chirps: 8
        One of my favorite birds is the Hooded Merganser. I love watching it and identifying it. The three different ways I identified it was it's behavior because it swims. It's coloring with its black hood and partially brown on its body. Lastly, I was able to identify it by the duck's size it is larger than a crow.download (3)
    • Julie
      Participant
      Chirps: 1
      Activity #2: Small Sparrows I chose to focus on differences in color between three small sparrows that I see frequently.
      • Lincoln Sparrow
        • Color: Brown and Grey
        • Markings: Black eyestripe, brown crown stripe, black dots/stripes on body
      • Savannah Sparrow
        • Color: Brown, White, and Yellow
        • Markings: Black eyestripe, yellow eyebrows (?), white/yellow eye ring, brown dots/stripes on body
      • Song Sparrow
        • Color: Brown, White, and Grey
        • Markings: Light brown crown stripe, "softer" patterns on body
      These ones are really hard for me to distinguish between. The Savannah Sparrow's yellow makes it the most "distinct" out of the three, so I would probably need to pay attention to behavior and foraging patterns/songs to tell the difference between a Lincoln Sparrow and a Song Sparrow.
    • Wendy
      Participant
      Chirps: 3
      Activity 4 Using the bird ID strategies from this lesson and the Merlin app, I was able to identify two different species that I had previously thought were the same bird. Hutton's Vireo and the Orange-Crowned Warbler are both small, olive green, insect-eating birds, but have distinct differences in markings. The white wing bars and eye rings of the Hutton's Vireo now stand out to me as distinguishing markings.
    • Harriette
      Participant
      Chirps: 2
      During a dog walk, I noted a couple of neat-looking little brown sparrow-type birds pecking at the ground.  Their markings were nicely defined, and they had a reddish/brown cap, a black line through the eye and white bit above.  When I got back home, I consulted my bird book.  There were several sparrows with reddish caps, but the well-defined eye markings suggested that this was a breeding chipping sparrow.  Distribution charts helped as well.  A couple of the other red-capped candidates weren't common to this area. We do have more exotic and colorful birds here in Atlanta--cardinals, towhees, bluebirds, blue jays, and many others.  But "little brown birds" always pose an interesting i-d challenge.
    • Bioscape Farm
      Participant
      Chirps: 2
      #1 Where we live, this time of year we can easily identify Piliated Woodpeckers from all other birds due to it's shape. And we also have sandhill cranes that nest on our property that are very distinctive to anything else here. #2 At our feeder we get dark-eyed juncos, black-capped chickadees, and white-crowed sparrows that each have black, white and brown parts, but their colour patterns are very different from one another, which aids in identification. #3 The Ravens fly over our farm and scan the ground for anything to eat. Again the piliated woodpecker we saw ripping an old tree apart looking for food. The tree swallows are very active, flying overhead searching and eating insects in the air. And our pair of mallards on the pond peacefully bob up and down for food. #4 Not our favourite bird, but, we recently had a huge wind storm that must have pushed north some Bullock's Orioles. We had one at our feeder by the house and it confused us because it looked like a western tanager, which we get here, but the colour patterns were not quite the same. And the body share was definitely different. We didn't have Merlin yet, but the maps in our Sibley guide showed that the Bullock's came close to our location. So I asked a bird expert friend of mine, and even though it is rare for the bird to be here, it likely was. And since then, there have been other sightings, so our ID was confirmed.
    • Lindy
      Participant
      Chirps: 4
      Activity #3 Robins searching for worms Osprey hunting fish in the lake near us Song sparrow scratching for something in the shrubs (bugs?)
    • Barbara
      Participant
      Chirps: 2
      The warblers are definitely going through here in southern Maine!  Today I saw a female yellow warbler (tentative id by size and color, then positive when she sang).  I id’d the song sparrow first by by its song (three first notes, then the rest).  Goldfinch flock both by coloring and the behavior in flight (up and down, up and down trajectory).  A week ago I saw this guy in a stand of brushy trees, which I think is a northern parula because, although in shadows, I had time to study him and am pretty positive I saw a greenish patch on his upper back, and a dark band across his throat/chest.  Apologies for the bad quality of the pix - I only had my phone zoomed in as much as possible, then cropped out all the brushy stuff.... C76762D5-61AA-489C-BA6A-4518706B8917495237FA-7144-4879-A64F-C265A50A158C
    • Kathleen
      Participant
      Chirps: 4
      Activity 2 I saw a rose breasted grosbeak, a northern cardinal, and a house finch that all have red on them. The grosbeak’s rosy red bib on the breast was easy to spot.The rest of the bird was black and white.His head was all black, his back was black and wings had white wing bars. His lower chest was white with the red bib prominent under his chin.  The female northern cardinal had a bright red beak, red on the wings and crest and rosy red breast area.  Finally the house finch has a red cap on his head, red breast and brown back with brown streaks on his flanks.  at first I wasn’t sure if he was a purple finch or a house finch, but on looking up those two in Sibleys, I could tell that my bird was a house finch.
    • Sam
      Participant
      Chirps: 4
      My favorite recent bird I have seen a couple of times while riding my bike out near marshes, and is the American Avocet.  I like this bird because of its long beak that I see it poking in the mud, presumably for food, and its distinguishable coloring.  This bird has a redish brown head with a white body and large black stripes on the wings.  It also has light blue legs.  It's a medium sized bird roughly the size of a crow and is often seen surveying the mud near shorelines.
    • Joan
      Participant
      Chirps: 1
      Activity 4:  Not necessarily my favorite bird but I spotted a pair of birds three days ago.  Had no idea what they were. Using the ID methods taught in this course I found out they were Eastern Kingbirds.  They landed on a Hydrangea Bush just outside my kitchen.  So I decided they were about the size of a Robin.  They both had the same markings.  It did not seem like there was a different between a male and a female.  They were a dark grey color with some white markings.  They had a white belly and it went all the way up under the chin.  They had a very black cap.  The best giveaway was the white tips of feathers on the very end of the tails. I did not hear them so could not ID with a song or call.   It was for me a great spot.
    • Mary
      Participant
      Chirps: 3
      I had three different black birds at the feeder this morning. A very large Crow, several Starlings and the Red wing blackbird.  I wish  my bird book and Merlin would have photos instead of descriptions of the female counterpart . I have no idea what a female Red wing looks like.
      • Lindy
        Participant
        Chirps: 4
        Hi!  I saw your question about the female red winged blackbird and I realized that I didn't know what it looked like either (very familiar with the male) The female is a mottled brown apparently.  I will look out for that when I am out near the marsh area where I see a lot of birds - Lindy
    • Rod
      Participant
      Chirps: 5
      In our location (Northern Illinois),we enjoy all our backyard visitors and those we can find in our trips to local wetlands and nature preserves ! As far as those with distinct shapes to note , we have sizes and shapes  from the finches all the way up to mallards and the migratory egrets and herons and also predators that frequently raid the feeders, mainly red tailed hawks, and sharp shinned hawks.   When we are fortunate to have the waterfowl here, the size and shape come into play with the Great Egrets , and herons , as long with the hawks to help decipher them apart. As our Winter leaves us, we see groups of somewhat similar sized dark colored birds.... Grackles, Blackbirds, Cow Birds ,,,,feeding mostly on the ground under feeders.  The distinctive  red bands ease to ID of the redwinged blackbirds, the brown head/crown helps spot the cowbirds, and the iridescent blue head and crown aid in the ID of the Grackles. Feeding helps spot our woodpeckers, downy and hairy, at our peanut stations, our Northern Cardinals at our platform feeders going after striped , golden sunflower and safflower , and at this time of our early spring, both Baltimore Orioles, and Orchard Orioles at our fruit/nectar stations mainly oranges and grape jelly . Have many favorites, but must say I really enjoy the Nuthatches, both the Red Breasted and White Breasted. Love to see them visiting our feeders, taking their seed and heading to our trees and going down the trunk upside down. Also love to hear their chattering and calls when I'm out restocking the feeders !!! Wish we saw them more often !!089  
    • Allan Wilson
      Participant
      Chirps: 1
      As a backyard birder I am familiar with a dozen or so regulars, and half a dozen spring migrants who drop in for a day or days.  Some of the birds are in pairs, and so we get to know them individually (downey and hairy woodpeckers, cardinals, orioles, robins) while others form flocks (goldfinches (spring), house sparrows (by spring, 15 to 20, by fall, 40+).  Close knowledge of a limited set of birds provides a good measuring stick when observing birds in parks, on the waterfront, and so on.  The house and barn swallows in the waterfront parks, for example, are bigger than goldfinches, infinitely elegant flyers, easily identified by their forked tails and differentiated by breast colours.  I find binoculars are mostly unnecessary - the home birds are close, the park birds fly close if you stay still long enough.  Not particularly interested in lists, either.  Just find birds endlessly interesting.
    • Trevor
      Participant
      Chirps: 8
      A question as I progress through this section: Why is it that some birds can have size and color difference and still be considered the same species while others can have size and color differences but are considered separate species? For example, a song sparrow from Arizona is more lightly colored than one from British Colombia (or so I read in a Sibley book) but they are the same species whereas American Crows and fish Crows are nearly identical but are considered different species whereas eastern and western meadowlark have slightly different plumages but are consider different species. Or, another example, rock pigeons have dark and tan and white morphs but are all specifically rock pigeons. Are the species differentiated by actual DNA or genetical differences? For species who are so similar, using the song sparrow example again, are they genetically identical and simply have the slight color or feature size variations because of their local environment? As for species such as the rock pigeon where all of the variations can be seen in the same location, why are they so different assuming they are the same species?
    • Alistair
      Participant
      Chirps: 3
      1. Duck and cormorant. Cormorant, - upright posture when on land. Longer neck and longer thin bill. Smaller head. 2. Song sparrow, field sparrow and house sparrow. I find the sparrows hard to identify but the app made it much easier plus having photos to refer to. _DSC9334_DSC9239_DSC9288 3. Red-winged blackbird, - foraging on the ground. Mallard duck feeding in water. Tree swallow feeding in flight. 4. Red-tailed hawk. Large, rounded wings and tail. Red tail. Gliding, soaring in circles. Common in Toronto and resident all year.
    • Jo Anne
      Participant
      Chirps: 4
      Activity 1:  The Canada Goose is a large bird with a long neck, relatively short legs, and big feet.  The Ruby-throated Hummingbird is very small with wings moving in a blur and a very long thin bill that iBird describes as needle shape.   Activity 2:  I got lucky. Usually, I see only Robins and Cardinals wearing red. Today I also saw a Scarlet Tanager and a hummingbird. I knew their common names already, but I was surprised how easy it was to find them using Merlin. I have now learned their full names. The American Robin has an orange chest and underparts according to Merlin and rich red-brown breast according to iBird Pro. The Northern Cardinal is solid red except for its black mask and throat. Scarlet Tanager is described as being a brilliant red except for its black wings and tail. The Ruby-throated Hummingbird has a bright red throat.   Activity 4:  My favorite bird is the Common Loon. It is a large bird that spends its life in the water except when it makes a nest close to the water. It has a black bill and white breast and black and white patterns on the rest of its body. It has a striking white and black neckband, which we call a necklace. It feeds by diving underwater and can stay down for a long time. It has a number of calls, such as an eery wail, several varieties of a tremolo, and a hoot. It spends the summer primarily along the northern border of the US, and Alaska and Canada. In the winter, it migrates to the Atlantic or Pacific coast and southeastern US. In the winter, it turns mostly gray, including it’s bill, with a dull white underparts.
    • Margaret
      Participant
      Chirps: 3
      PyrrhuloxiaphainopeplaNorthern Cardinal I recently saw a pyrrhuloxia in a Sonoran desert community. It clearly had the shape and size of a Northern Cardinal but very different markings with a short yellow bill and red face and some dusty red on its wings. We also have what we call a "black cardinal" which are pretty abundant and its very distinctive- all shiny black witha red eye. So three different cardinals in the desert!
      • Aaron
        Participant
        Chirps: 16
        What you call a "black cardinal" is actually named a Phainopepla. Hope this helps!
    • Evelyn
      Participant
      Chirps: 4
      1. I had 2 different doves at my feeder same color and similar actions. One was a Mourning Dove the other was a Eurasian Collard Dove. The Mourning Dove was petite and the Eurasian Collard Dove had a larger Chunkier body and a collar around it's neck. 2. I used the Cornell web-cam at Sapsucker Woods and spotted a Red Winged Blackbird, A Red Bellied Woodpecker and a Rose-breasted Grosbeak. (Bottom right corner) I believe I got this right. This one looks like it has a more red breast than the one on the Merlin ID app. If I am wrong can someone let me know, thanks. Screen Shot 2020-05-13 at 8.06.55 AM 3. I saw a Chipping Sparrow on the ground beneath the feeder. It hops and digs. It flew into the nearby bushes when startled. I saw a Robin in my hummingbird garden. She hopped, stopped tilted her head, stood still then repeated. She finally found a worm. I had a black-capped Chickadee eating seed from the feeder. Although when the feeder holes were full he went to the ground to eat. 4. My favorite bird is a Bald Eagle. They are large brownish black with a white head and tail. They usually live near bodies of water. We have a pair at Stanley Lake in Westminster, Colorado. They soar with wings flat and head far out in front of them. They are majestic. To see one takes your breath away. I follow several different Eagle cams and enjoy watching th young hatch and grow to maturity.
      • Teresa
        Participant
        Chirps: 1
        Hi Evelyn, I do not think that the one in the bottom right is a rose breasted grosbeak.  I am pretty sure that this is actually a Baltimore Oriole.  It's a little hard to tell, but I think the breast is actually orange not red.  I know that the beak is too thin for a grosbeak.  (gross means large is German, so I think that is something to keep in mind).  Also, I was also watching the Live Cam the other day, as saw quite a few of the Orioles, so that is my best guess  I hope this helps.  If someone else disagrees, please let me know.  We are all still learning! Thanks, Terri