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

    • Michelle
      Participant
      Chirps: 6
      Activity #1 2 Birds by shape Red-winged Blackbird and Common Grackle. Both of these birds are in the same family of Icterids, but, forage and move differently and are found in different habitats. Except this year, they are both in my backyard! The Grackle is and bigger and more elongated bird than the red-winged blackbird. It has a longer, slightly de-curved bill and longer tail. It also has longer legs meant for foraging on the ground.
    • Jennifer
      Participant
      Chirps: 6
      Activity 2:   Hello from north Florida.  I used Merlin to identify a black and white warbler and a downy woodpecker. Hairy woodpeckers also visit my feeders & was surprised that the Merlin app didn’t suggest them as an option when I entered colors (black, white, red) and a larger size. Any suggestions ?
    • Cathy
      Participant
      Chirps: 5
      IMG_0001 Activity 1: I have been trying to sort in my own mind how to tell these three shorebirds apart, so yesterday I went out with my camera to an empty beach at 7:00 in the morning.   Their body shape and coloring look pretty similar to my untrained eye, at least from a distance.  Their bills are distinctively different, the Whimbrel's is curved down, the Willit's is much shorter and the Godwit's is longer with an apricot colored part.  The Willit is easy to identify when it is flying because it has a distinctive white band on it's wings, the Whimbrel has a stripe on it's head. Now I just have to remember which is which.
    • Marlene
      Participant
      Chirps: 17
      I tried to identify this small bird feeding from my finch food bag feeder this week. It is larger than the typical finches that feed there, so was curious. I assumed it is a sparrow of some type, but not sure which type. I used the Merlin app and it came up with two different possible matches when I used two different pictures. Either the Harris's Sparrow, which typically is found further north in Canada I think, or the Fox Sparrow. I am in Northeast Wisconsin.  Any other ideas? 20200428_073630[1]
      • Hi Marlene,   I believe that might be a female Purple Finch on your feeder.  I'm saying that because I see a streaked belly (brown & white) and white eye stripe.  The range for Purple Finches is correct for NE Wisconsin (year round). Thanks.  Hope this helps, Carole Carole Swann
      • Marlene
        Participant
        Chirps: 17

        @Carole Thanks Carole. Great to know. We do have many different types of finches here. We have seen purple finches, so that make sense. Still waiting for the Indigo Buntings to come in..

      • Rick
        Participant
        Chirps: 1
        Could it be the female rose breasted grossbeak?
    • Jody
      Participant
      Chirps: 7
      Activity 3:  Today, May 1 in Greenwood Village, Colorado (suburb of Denver) I saw two white-crowned sparrows foraging for food in the grass beneath bird feeders containing black oil sunflower seeds.  I used Merlin for a positive ID.  Many Robins were searching the grass for worms.    (Can they hear the worms underground?!  How do they know they are there?)  Again, I used Merlin to determine male and female Robins.  Black-capped chickadees were eating from the sunflower seeds and the suet.  Enjoyed lots more bird action in the backyard today but I chose to profile those 3 food-finding activities.
    • Charlotte
      Participant
      Chirps: 10
      A rose breasted grosbeak appeared on my feeder today here in north New Jersey. This is one of my favorite spring visitors who was very content to dine on some sunflower seeds.
    • Charlotte
      Participant
      Chirps: 10
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    • Nicole
      Participant
      Chirps: 10
      I live in Westchester County, NY. We have had a lot of rain lately. I have especially enjoyed watching the robins this spring- it brings me comfort to see them. They seem to have a spring in their step and work tirelessly to find their worm. They are plentiful in our area and in the much of North America. Their coloring, body shape and behavior (hopping around on the ground) make them pretty easy to id. DSCN3304
    • Laura
      Participant
      Chirps: 7
      It would be interesting and helpful if classmates posting here also included their location.
    • Kara
      Participant
      Chirps: 20
      Activity #4 My Favourite Bird The Ruby-throated Hummingbird. The Ruby-throated Hummingbird, has a slender, slightly downcurved bill with small wings.  They're bright emerald green on their back and crown with a white belly.  The males have the ruby throat. They live in open woodland, forest edges, grasslands, parks and, hopefully, my backyard this summer. I have only seen females in my garden,  but I'm optimistic that I will see the male this year.  Southern Ontario has had an unseasonably cool and windy April, but warmer temperatures are coming our way and I have my feeders out in anticipation.
    • Kara
      Participant
      Chirps: 20
      Activity 2- Three birds with the same colour, birds that are orange and black Bullock's Oriole- Bright orange, black back, large white wing patch. Orange face with a black line through the eye and a black throat Blackburnian Warbler- vivid orange on face and throat, triangular facial pattern of black Black-headed Grosbeak- rich orange cinnamon colour, with a black head and black and white wings
    • Kathleen
      Participant
      Chirps: 4
      Activity 4: One of my favorite birds is the Baltimore Oriole who is visiting my oriole feeder now.  He is a medium sized bird with a black head, orange chest, and bright white wing bars. I put out my “jelly” feeder to attract them.  Last year I saw both males and females aplenty.  My primary home is in Michigan, but since I winter in south Texas, I see the orioles first there—and not just Baltimores. We see Altamira, Bullocks, Hooded, and Orchard varieties.  They love fruit.
    • Kara
      Participant
      Chirps: 20
      Activity 1- Bird ID by Shape American Robin- large, round body, long legs and a fairly long tail IMG_5569 Goldfinch- sparrow sized or smaller, small head, long wings, short notched tail, small conical beak IMG_0028
    • candy
      Participant
      Chirps: 3
      Activity 3. 3 birds searching for food.  Here in TX today, IIMG_3759 saw a Black Crested Titmouse at the feeder taking one seed at a time and flying back to the tree to eat it (I guess) and going back and forth many times.  A cardinal ate at the feeder and also foraged on the ground below the feeder for seeds.  In Iowa, I watched Bald Eagles  fishing in the Mississippi, diving low towards the water with their talons out and catching the fish in flight flying away with the fish in its talons.  Activity 4.  Favorite bird-Northern Cardinal.  Id'ed by its size and shape (larger than a robin with a distinctive crest), color pattern and markings ( the black around its eyes contrasting wit the red is so pretty), sounds (today, the female was chirping just like the Merlin app example; They also often sing more elaborate songs.)  I love the Merlin app having so many examples of each bird's songs.  It really helps me learn them!
    • candy
      Participant
      Chirps: 3
      IMG_3785 Activity 1.  2 birds of different shape.  At my feeder today I saw a female cardinal with the characteristic crest on her head.  She had barely noticeable red on her wings and tail.  Also, a house sparrow with the small size, no tuft or crest.  Sparrows seem to usual but he was very pretty with his intricate wing colorings!  Activity 2.  3 birds-same color on diff parts of body .  My color is black:  Purple Martins-Identifiable with the forked tail and shape of beak  The habitat/behavior of using a raised martin house.  House Sparrow (again)-identified by his color pattern, behavior at the feeder and size and shape.  Great Blue Heron-identified by his habitat on the water and color pattern.  I identified all through Merlin.  What a great app!!  IMG_3728
    • Jerzy
      Participant
      Chirps: 1
      Recently I have been watching a lot common grackles and red wing black birds. Both seem to hanging around together in some areas (as well as at the Cornell feeder).  Their shape differences are not very pronounced so it was useful to hone in on those. European sparling also joins the two species and Colours help to tell them apart - yellow bill and spots on the sparking, red and yellow stripe on the male red wing and Metalic blue head and brownish body on grackles. Northern Cardinal was the first bird that I could ID by shape, colour and sound.  With time I got to appreciate the female cardinal for her very diverse colour: Brown, yellow and red/orange.  Typically she is hiding in lower branches while the male is easy to hear and spot. Telling the difference between sharp shinned and Cooper’s hawks gives me grief. Apparently not only me - late in 2018 I photographed one in my yard.  Trying to report it properly on e-bird I first sent the picture to the local expert who vets submissions. He concluded that it was Sharp shinned. Unfortunately after I submitted my report I was told by a different “vetter” that it was Cooper’s hawk.  Fun. Since I started using Merlin I had no problems.
    • Jill
      Participant
      Chirps: 10
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      • Jill
        Participant
        Chirps: 10
        P.S: We figured out how to post our own picture of those American White Pelicans noted below. Persistence and patience are certainly traits to have with this hobby!
    • Jill
      Participant
      Chirps: 10
      These activities prompted us to check out a spring migration birding site along a nearby northern Minnesota river (a new birding site for us). Thanks to playing around with all the features at Merlin we identified American White Pelicans congregating on a river bank, wading in the water, and flying in small flocks. Discerning the Ringbilled gull from other gulls was a little trickier --but checking out the multiple views in Merlin's app helped a lot.  Photo credit goes to the Audubon Society as inserting our own images isn't working too well. Guess we'll have to ask the kids for a tutorial here! Also, playing around with a newer iPhone allowed us to video at 6X and take photos at 10X size. We'll have to bring our spotter for monitoring activities close up but using binoculars went better today thanks to the tutorial in this course.
    • Barbara
      Participant
      Chirps: 3
      I used Merlin to identify 3 birds that I have seen recently in central Florida: Swallow-tail Kite, Palm Warbler, and Brown Thrasher. I see numerous herons and egrets in my area so want to work at identifying them.
    • W. John
      Participant
      Chirps: 9
      [2] Yesterday, a large flock of White-throated Sparrows descended upon my yard and happily ate milo/millet that my resident squirrels love to scatter. I immediately noticed that some of the sparrows were of a slightly different colouring than the others. I used Merlin, my Peterson Field Guide (Fifth Edition), and Chris Earley's Sparrows & Finches to learn more about the tan-striped morph of this species. The white-striped WTS much more easily stands out amongst the other beige/brown birds in my yard, including the Mourning Dove, which has a much more uniform colour, and the Brown Thrasher, which has dark streaking on his underparts,IMG_1029 and white wing bars. The photo that I have inserted is of a tan-morph that had the misfortune to fly into a window. Happily, he survived the ordeal. [3] In looking at birds that are foraging for food, I went to Allaboutbirds to see whether the WTS has any particularly distinguishing characteristics when pecking at the ground for seed, which it does not. This was confirmed by the Project Feederwatch app. The Mourning Dove feeds in a similar manner but is less likely to fly from spot to spot like the WTS. In fact, I note that the dove does not mind sitting/standing in a pile of feed for relatively long periods of time. My faithful Dark-eyed Juncos, being sparrows, act in a similar manner to the WTS. As a bonus, a female Brown-headed Cowbird joined the group of WTS under a feeder and walked from spot to spot looking for seed. Although grey/beige, it is easily distinguished by size and shape of bill -- finch-like -- from the sparrows and Mourning Dove. The PFW app confirmed that the cowbird eats a wide variety of food, although I note that she seems to prefer milo/millet to cracked corn, both of which my posse of squirrels delight in scattering on the ground. [4] Today's favourite bird is the Dark-eyed Junco (slate-coloured) because most of them have already migrated north, east and south-east for the slowly approaching summer season, and I will soon begin to miss them. They are readily identified before I even see them by their trilling, high-pitched simple song. They are also the only two-toned grey bird in my yard, with the upper part of the body being a darker slate-coloured grey, hence their former name. The flit from spot to spot in my yard looking for milo/millet, although I do see them eating, one piece at a time, safflower. They also fly over to eat bits of nyjer and sunflower hearts that fall from tube feeders. This is a friendly and non-aggressive species that I thoroughly enjoy watching and feeding.
    • Karen
      Participant
      Chirps: 9
      Activity 3: I watched a bluebird perch on a branch of walnut tree, fly down to ground to catch something and then return to its original perch.  It did this several times before flying to a perch in an elm tree nearby.  It resumed its routine of flying to ground, then back up to perch.  In between watching the bluebird, I also saw a phoebe perch on a branch on an apple tree, fly to the ground and then return to the apple tree, repeatedly.  A field sparrow was in the hedgerow that is around the orchard, and it hopped along the ground quickly before hopping up into the hedgerow and then returning to the ground a few feet away.  It was difficult to find when I looked away to check on the other two birds, but when I was patient, its jerky, quick movements would draw my eye and I would be able to locate it again.  I looked all three up on Merlin and listened to their calls.
    • W. John
      Participant
      Chirps: 9
      I became a bit obsessed with the photo of the Downy that was posted by Marlene. At first glance, I tried to use our learning in an earlier part of the lesson by looking at the size of the bill. With the bird being on a bit of an angle, it is tough. My first thought was that the bill seemed rather large for a Downy but then I noticed the black spots on the underside of the tail, which makes it a Downy. I next opened Merlin -- thank you, Cornell, for this great app! -- and swiped through the photos of both birds. The second photo of a Downy was taken on a similar angle to the one that Marlene posted, and the shape of the bill -- more conical and less pointed -- also suggests that it is a Downy. What do others think? And, thank you, Marlene, for posting that photo. It gave me something to obsess over this drizzly morning!
    • Reminder: Please only post photographs that are taken by you.
      • Manyu
        Participant
        Chirps: 42
        Sure. Noted.
      • Manyu
        Participant
        Chirps: 42
        Hi Lee Ann van Leer , Can you help me by deleting my activity 2 in this discussion.  I will redo it.
      • Manyu
        Participant
        Chirps: 42

        @Manyu Will insert the pictures clicked by me in by redoing the activity again.

    • Marlene
      Participant
      Chirps: 17
      I captured 4 male American Gold Finches at my window feeder yesterday. Although we normally think of Goldfinches as bright yellow birds, they actually have a few distinctive colors. In summer they are bright yellow with a black forehead, black wings with white markings and white patches above and below their tails. Lots of colors when you look closely. 20200427_080024[1]
    • Marlene
      Participant
      Chirps: 17
      I used my awesome Merlin App to identify the below woodpecker. I wasn't sure if it was a Hairy Woodpecker or a Downy. I had always thought it was a Downy, but after going through the bird ID lesson I thought maybe it was really a Hairy. The Merlin App identified it as a Downy. Would you agree? 20200427_181623[1]
      • Vicki g
        Participant
        Chirps: 21
        well - between those two - I do agree - the shorter beak. is this a female (no red on cap?)
      • Marlene
        Participant
        Chirps: 17

        @Vicki g Yes, the female. She hangs on this mesh feeder quite a bit lately and makes it easy to take her picture.

      • W. John
        Participant
        Chirps: 9
        I would agree that this is a Downy because I can just make out a few black spots on the underside of the tail, which is a definite indicator of a Downy.
      • Yes,  this photo is Downy Woodpecker, female. My personal mnemonic is Dinky, Descending, Downy  (You could substitute Dainty or Diminutive) (Dinky bill that is around half the width of the  head. Dinky as in smaller than a Hairy Woodpecker. Descending in that their call descends in pitch (while Hairy Woodpecker call remains on the same pitch). Humongous, Hurried, Hairy Their bill is humongous (compared with the Downy Woodpecker), their bill is equal to around the full width of their head and they are huge overall compared to Downy Woodpecker. Hurried is for their drumming which is very rapid or hurried compared to the other woodpeckers. You will find that the mnemonic devices you create yourself will be the most memorable. If you come up with any, throughout the course, feel free to post them. It might be interesting to learn some from all around the world.