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

    • Heather
      Participant
      Chirps: 4
      Activity 1 Today I saw Canada Geese and Buffleheads which were easy to identify by shape. Activity 2 The Red Winged Blackbird has red on a shoulder patch. The Northern Flicker has red on its head and the Redpoll has a red cap. Activity 3 I  have Juncos eating at my feeder and on the ground beneath it.  Kildeers have arrived and are foraging near a pond.  I have been watching a juvenile bald eagle scavenging on roadkill nearby. Activity 4 One of my favorite birds is the Common Loon.  I watch loons at the lake in the summer.  The loon has a black head, a necklace of black and white stripes and a black and white patterned body. It dives to catch fish . Its feet are at the back of its body and it has an awkward flapping/running type of takeoff in the water.  What I love the most is its haunting calls.          
    • Annie
      Participant
      Chirps: 10
      Activity 1: Two similar birds that are easy to tell apart are my Carolina Chickadees and Tufted Titmice! Though the body shape is similar, I can always spot the tufted titmice from a distance because of their adorable crest. I also love their little round eyes - one of the cutest little birds! Activity 2: We have three different types of woodpeckers in our yard. Similar colors, different sizes and slightly different shapes. I didn’t even know about two of them until this week! The pileated woodpeckers have always been easy to spot, but Merlin helped me identify two smaller woodpeckers - the downy woodpecker and the red-bellied woodpecker! I’ve seen them both on at least two different occasions now! Activity 3: Hummingbirds - they whiz around and light on my nectar feeders. They are also territorial and are always fussing with one another. Cardinals - they love my conventional feeders and are usually easy to spot on all of those. The mourning dove likes to hang around on the ground by the feeders and gets the seed that other birds knock off the feeder. Activity 4: I don’t know if I have an absolute favorite, but I have been enjoying learning about crows lately! They are the biggest of the small birds (or smallest of the big birds), and I can best tell them from Common Grackles because their eyes are all black whereas the grackle has yellow eyes. I can also tell from their flight patterns how they differ from ravens (thanks for that video!). Also, the crow has a caw sound (of their many sounds) whereas ravens do more of a croak. I love seeing crows in groups. We’ve been rearranging the feeders around in our backyard to see what works best, and I spotted about three of them walking around and checking everything out when they thought we weren’t looking. They are so curious and have such an interesting community. If you see one, you know there are almost always more nearby.
    • Jason
      Participant
      Chirps: 7
      Activity 1: House Sparrow and Rock Pigeon. Very different shapes. Activity 2: Northern Cardinal, Red-Winged Blackbird, and Northern Flicker. All have red coloring, but in different amounts and locations on the plumage. Northern Cardinal is almost entirely red, usually strikingly so. By contrast, the Red-Winged Blackbird has very noticeable and usually quite bright shoulder patch, while the Northern Flicker has small red bands on the face/head. Activity 3: a) Red-Winged Blackbird scrounging for food on the ground, jumping around and picking at the ground here and there; b) Canada Goose grazing on grass; c) Lesser Scaup diving underwater for food. Activity 4: White-Breasted Nuthatch. Approximately the size of a large sparrow. Beautiful grey back with black flashes. White-breasted (as the name suggests). Black cap. A subtle red splash of color on the belly. These birds creep along tree trunks looking for insects, and they often creep 'upside-down', with their head facing towards the ground. I've only seen them in fairly dense forest where there are an abundance of tree trunks. I usually see them in small groups of 2-3. They are present throughout the year here (Montreal). In the spring months, they are present throughout most of North America.
    • Donna
      Participant
      Chirps: 6
      Did all of my activities just by watching the birds in our yard/field and at our feeders. Activity 1:  2 birds I can tell apart by shape are American crow and common grackle (we have plenty of both!). Activity 2: 3 birds with same color (red) on different parts of their bodies are Northern cardinal, house finch, and red wing blackbird Activity 3: Watched the downy woodpecker pecking away at the suet cake on our feeding post. Mourning doves were foraging at the ground feeders and piles of seed on the ground. In the yard was a sparrow (to the best I can narrow it down it was either Savannah or White-throated because it had a yellow patch near the eye but was down in the grass so I couldn't see the chest well) doing something I had never seen before - it was picking away at the dandelion seed heads! Activity 4: Red wing blackbird - medium size, black body with distinct red/yellow stripe on shoulder, feeding on the ground with a distinctive call (the first one I was ever able to recognize clearly and attach it to the bird!).
    • Carol
      Participant
      Chirps: 12
      Activity 1 - 2 birds outside my kitchen window - Mourning Dove and Flicker. Mourning Dove often on fence or in tree and different shape. Flicker on ground hopping and pecking at the ground eating or up in a tree. Activity 2 - Ducks - white and Black - Lesser Scaup - white patch on body, top body greyish  and bill bluish color. Ring Necked Duck - white part on body and bill have white stripes. Bufflehead - white spot body and head, smaller duck.  Saw all three today. Using the spotting scope really helped. What I had thought was a Scaup was a Ring Necked Duck when I used scope, ducks too far away to see all details with binoculars. Also when rainy one day I could not see blue bill. Activity 3 - Northern Harrier flying low to ground to swoop down and catch food. Flicker hopping along and pecking into grass looking for ants. Bufflehead swimming and then diving down in the water for food Activity 4 Saw an American Kestral today eating something on a branch. Was not sure it was a  falcon or a hawk I was seeing. Entered grey, orange and white, in a tree, had location at, and size between a robin and crow. Kestral was first one in list. Got our scope on bird and took a picture and that was the bird.
    • Danya
      Participant
      Chirps: 20
      Activity 1:  Red-winged Blackbird from our bird feeder and Common Grackle from the Cornell feeder . (The Merlin app is easy to use!) Activity 2:  Northern Cardinal, Red-bellied Woodpecker, Downy Woodpecker Activity 3:  Downy Woodpecker likes to peck at my suet.  The Red-bellied Woodpecker prefers the small bird feeder.  He latches onto the wires and picks out a peanut from the birdseed mix and then flies away.  He never stays for long.  The Northern Cardinal is not so much in a hurry to leave.  Sometimes he pecks at bird seed on the ground which has fallen and sometimes he gets it from the large bird feeder. Activity 4:  Eastern Bluebird (Bird ID):  bigger than a sparrow and smaller than a robin; songbird with bright blue back, head and wing markings (if a male), an orange throat and breast and white belly; likes open fields, bird boxes and perches on trees and posts; common in my area but only comes to my bird feeders when it is winter and there's snow on the ground; it has a few distinctive calls and a song that starts loud and distinctive and then gets lower and softer
    • James
      Participant
      Chirps: 4
      Activity 1:  Birds identified by shape:  Northern Cardinal and House Finch. Activity 2:  Birds identified by a common color (red):  Northern Cardinal-all red body with black mask extending from face to chin and throat, large red bill and crest.  Male House Finch-an orange red face and rump, with brown cap, a white belly with brown streaks.  Red-bellied Woodpecker:  A zebra-backed woodpecker with a white rump.  Red crown extends down nape of neck.  Tan breast with a tinge of red on belly which is often hard to see. Activity 3:  Food selection practices:  House finches tend to visit feeders, and sometimes the ground, for seeds.  Mourning Doves will visit feeders and the ground in search of seeds.  Brown-headed cowbirds feed on insects and seeds, often visiting feeders and the ground around seeders for spilled seeds. Activity 4:  Favorite bird with ID characteristics:  Carolina Chickadee is a small, mostly gray bird with a black cap  and chin.  It has a white face and chin with a tan belly and darker gray tail.  It is a year-round bird of the Carolinas and one of the first birds to use a newly placed feeder.  I flies to the feeder, grabs a seed, and carries it back to a branch.  It will hold the seed down with its feetDSC_4229 and pound it open with its bill.  It then returns to get another seed.  By remaining at the feeder for such a short time, it is thus somewhat difficult to photograph. Photo shows Male House Finch with  american Goldfinch.
    • John
      Participant
      Chirps: 3
      Activity 1 - I've chosen a couple of birds local to home in Melbourne - the Little Raven and Noisy Miner. The latter being a much small bird with yellow beak and legs, with black head apart from white forehead. Rest of bird is grey with white belly. The Little Raven is totally black apart from a white eye (adult). A little smaller than the Australian Raven - but less common in Melbourne. Activity 2 - White-plumed Honeyeater (white cheek plume), the Magpie Lark (black and white smallish bird with male and female identifiable by different patterns) and the White-winged - Chough (a black bird with a red eye, and a circular white patch on wings visible in flight) Activity 3 - Australian Magpie - spends a lot of time on the ground looking for insects, bugs under grass or just below the surface, Red Wattlebird - feeds on nectar from flowers, Welcome swallow - low level erratic flight after insec ts Activity 4 - Brahminy Kite -  a medium sized bird of prey, white head, neck and breast with upper body and wings a reddish brown, black tipped wings. Coastal areas especially in northern Australia. Tends to scavenge on beaches after fish, reptiles, crustaceans. Slow soaring flight.DSC_5229a
    • Cheryl
      Participant
      Chirps: 8
      P4250007 Vermillion flycatcher seen in a park by my house.  He leaves and returns to perch after catching insects on grassy area.  My second bird was also might be a flycatcher.  It is similar size with a tail that it wags up and down while perched.  Head and chest gray with no distinctive markings.  I think it is a gray flycatcher but could not get a photo.  Song was similar to what I heard on Merlin app. PC190003  I believe this is a Anna's hummingbird.  Red flash seen on entire head and throat that appears black in photos.  Green on back.
    • cindy
      Participant
      Chirps: 16
      Activity 3.  These are all the birds that were eating at my feeders or scratching at the ground ( Charleston, SC) .  Some of the birds I knew already by their shape, size, and color. (e.g., Canadian goose, eastern bluebird, ruby throated hummingbird, woodpecker) but the rest I had to observe, use Merlín and my bird book to be sure.  Also, the Carolina Wren  I used the song to help identify. Also, what I thought was a crow, turned out to be a grackle.  And I didn’t know about the catbird!   Also, thanks for the lesson on binoculars.  I am getting better with mine and might invest in a better pair. 1 eastern bluebird 2 cardinal 3 Canadian goose 4 Carolina wren, 5 house finch 6 common grackle 7 mourning dove, gray cat bird 8 red-bellied woodpecker
    • Sylvia
      Participant
      Chirps: 9
      Activity 1. Two birds with different shape: Canada goose and red-winged blackbird Activity 2. Three red birds: male northern cardinal (red all over), red-winged blackbird (red on shoulders), and downy woodpecker (red on nape of head) Activity 3. Three foraging styles: house sparrow (ground), great egret (staring/stalking in water), blue jays - seemingly eating anything at all (attacking robin nest, eating seed from a feeder...) Activity 4: Baltimore oriole (I think I posted this already): black head, orange breast; robin size, beautiful flute-like jazzy song, build hanging nest.
    • Paula
      Participant
      Chirps: 19
      It seems I can't edit my previous post, so I'll add the last activity here, and also post a question.  I don't really have a favorite bird, but Red Wing Blackbirds used to be common in my area, then they disappeared and now they seem to be back and that makes me very happy. I like how when they fly you are surprised by the flash of red and yellow. They are maybe robin sized, with primarily black bodies, and sharp but stout black beak.  I see them in the reeds near marshes, but also in trees near wetter areas.  They have longish tails and a kind of barky trill like song. Question there are some small sparrow like birds near me but I can't find an id with one that has a black patch on it's neck.  The back is various shades of brown like many sparrows with a black or dark brown head.  They fly fairly high and move around a lot so it's hard to capture in a picture. They don't seem grey enough to me to be a black capped chickadee.  I saw 3 darting on an off a window sill near an air conditioning unit. Any thoughts? Finally, the amount of bird song by my home is fantastic now that we are all at home but I'm going nuts trying to find where the sounds come from!!
    • Paula
      Participant
      Chirps: 19
      For activity one I can compare sparrows (there are all different types by me) with a blue jay.  They differ in shape, size and color.  The second activity seems a bit harder.  Selecting black/grey, I can say there are blue jays that have some black on their wing feathers, mocking birds that are overall more black grey, and red wing black birds that are generally black with a reddish orange and yellow on the upper wing.  Three birds that search for food differently... Robins hoping on the grass, a woodpecker pecking a tree and sparrows at a feeder and in trees.
    • Megan
      Participant
      Chirps: 2
      Activity 1: Red-breasted Nuthatch: small with no neck, head forward and pointed beak, short legs and shortish tail. Lesser Goldfinch: Small, with delicate, upright head, short & stubby beak, med long legs, small body with med length tail. Activity 2: All 3 of these birds are similar in appearance and color. Female House Finch: muted stripes brown & white chest,  and plain grey brown on head and body. Golden-crowned Sparrow: solid grayish chest, distinctive black and yellow striped crown, darkish brown wings with some white & gray. White-crowned Sparrow: almost indistinguishable from the Golden-crowned Sparrow, except the crown is white and black striped. Activity 3: California Towhee: hops within low bushes and among leaves & brush on the ground. California Scrub-Jay: picks bees outside hive, suet from feeder, seems to noisily survey many locations from perches on trees then swoops in to pick food. Anna's Hummingbird: Darts to hummingbird feeder, and flowers, then zips up in the air or away to a perch. Activity 4: Great Egret: found near wetlands and brackish water. Often standing still in shallow water. Long, sharp yellow bill, winding long neck. Black legs and feet & large, white body. Flies with neck tucked in and feet extending straight behind body. Stands still waiting for prey and stabs it in a quick motion.
    • Michelle
      Participant
      Chirps: 1
      Activity 4: Northern Flicker:
      • Sounds
        • Call: ki-ki-ki-ki-ki-ki-ki-ki-ki
        • Distinctive woodpecking
      • Habitat:
        • Woods and suburbs
      • Size and Shape
        • Larger than robin, smaller than crow
        • Upright
      • Coloring
        • red nape
        • black bib and whiskers
        • speckled, fawn-colored breast
        • dark-brown wings and back
    • Robyn
      Participant
      Chirps: 6
      1.  Bewick's Wren and California Towhee.  Similar colors--different sizes.  Bewick is sparrow sized while Towhee is Robin sized. 2.  Black Phoebe, Nuttal's woodpecker, and Dark-eyed Juncos all have black coloring as a major feature but each are found in different locations and are different sizes which helped in Merlin.  Black Phoebe sits on my fence.  Nuttal is up in the tree.  Juncos look for seeds on my patio. 3.  Same 3 as in #2:  Phoebe catches her food in flight.  Nuttal finds food in the tree bark.  Junco collects seeds from the ground. 4.  A favorite is Black Phoebe.  Size: robin-sized.   Color:  black crown, back, rump, and tail but white breast.  Behavior:  perches on fences; catches flying insects for prey.  Habitat:  backyards, neighborhood with trees, tree-lined creek.  Sounds:  says her name--phee-bee, phee-bee, phee-bee
    • Julian
      Participant
      Chirps: 11
      Activity 3: American Robin: raking leaves—I thought it was a person by the sound of it! Eastern Bluebird: Flying to just above the ground, hovering a bit, snatching a bug and flying back to its perch. Cedar Waxwing: I thought, why are they flying away from the tree perches and then flying back? They were catching flying insects. Activity 4: Northern Mockingbird: Main color gray with long tail. When flying, white patches on wing and outer tail stand out, outlined by black. Its head is more sinister-looking than a dove's. It has a black line from its eyes to its dark beak. It does not come in flocks and is often active and aggressive. When perched, it sings the calls of many birds—very loudly. Then it repeats the process from a new perch. A call unique to this bird is its buzzy scolding call that it directs at things that make it agitated.
    • Kathy
      Participant
      Chirps: 3
      Activity 1:  Brewer's Blackbird, i.d. by Merlin after seeing small-medium blackbird on telephone wire, no other markings.  Absence of yellow eye indicated a female.  Yellow-rumped Warbler, i.d. by field guide after seeing small black, white and yellow bird on the ground and in the trees, moving fast, thin pointed bill. Activity 2:  Three different birds with same color:  Red on Downy Woodpecker, Purple Finch and House Finch.  Least amount of red on woodpecker with defining head spot, liberally applied on the Purple Finch and less-so on the House Finch.  Field guide determinations. Activity 3:  Three different birds finding food:  Western Bluebird flying to ground for small worms, Tree Swallow catching insects on the fly, Black Oystercatcher picking shellfish off of rocks. Activity 4:  Western Bluebird: small-medium songbird, vivid blue markings on male mixed with rufous patches and upper chest, white below, feeding in open agricultural fields, used song recording to locate._KCF2912
    • Kimberly
      Participant
      Chirps: 1
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    • Sylvia
      Participant
      Chirps: 9
      My favorite bird is the Baltimore oriole. The male is a robin-sized bird with black head and orange body who sings a clear almost jazzy almost flute-like song. Bonus: they make hanging nests at the end of branches. Very cool.
    • James
      Participant
      Chirps: 4
      In doing the activities for bird ID'ing, I came across a bird that I am not familiar with.  I tried using Merlin but it responded that it could not ID the bird.  Did say that it was rare.DSC_4236DSC_4237 It resembles the Warbler clan but I find nothing specific.  It has brown coloration on the head and wings, orange breast, and white wing bars.  Seen in SC today and is about a Robin's size.  Coloration similar to finches but bill is longer and bird is bigger.  Photographed on two different hummingbird feeders with it actually drinking.
      • Paula
        Participant
        Chirps: 19
        could it be a pine warbler?
      • Michelle
        Participant
        Chirps: 6
        This is a Baltimore Oriole.  Check the female and immature orioles in the field guide.  Females of many species can lead you astray, and many immature birds resemble females until they get their full adult plumage.  If I had to, I would say this is a male because of the black in the head and throat and how white the wing bars are.
      • Jay
        Participant
        Chirps: 19
        You know... I think it looks a lot like the American Goldfinches posted in a photo in the next lesson! https://academy.allaboutbirds.org/topic/activities-local-bird-exploration/ Check it out! Screen Shot 2020-04-26 at 14.20.19
      • James
        Participant
        Chirps: 4

        @Jay Much too large for American Goldfinch.  We have bunches of those but I had not seen this.  It is a female Baltimore Oriole I believe. In looking at the Goldfinches through binoculars, they appear much larger than they are.  We have them feeding on the ground under the feeder and they are tiny. Thanks for your comment.  I have learned much from researching this bird.

      • Carol
        Participant
        Chirps: 12
        I think as someone else did that is female Baltimore Oriole. I have been fooled by those, helpful if the male is around. Also need to know the size of bird.
      • James
        Participant
        Chirps: 4

        @Carol A little smaller than a Robin.

      • Sue
        Participant
        Chirps: 1
        My Merlin search shows it looks like a female hooded oriole. Also "visits feeders with nectar and fruits."
    • cindy
      Participant
      Chirps: 16
      I’m struggling with the id.  Merlín presents them both as an option.  is it a grackle or a crow?  Whatever it is, it’s bossy and makes a mess of the birdseed at the feeder.
    • Jay
      Participant
      Chirps: 19
      Activity 2: Telling sparrows apart is one of the more challenging tasks I’ve faced since I began birdwatching… and I’m definitely still learning! I find it easy to mistake the Song Sparrow with the White-throated Sparrow. Both are brown with facial stripes and even share similar white eyebrows! They also both feed on the ground, though I believe the White-throated Sparrow is more apt to perform the two-footed kick maneuver that Kevin describes. The Song Sparrow, however, has a speckled chest as compared with the White-throated Sparrow’s distinctive white throat patch and yellow eye markings (though the latter do not seem to always be so pronounced). Finally, the female House Sparrow (pesky, invasive little buggers) also appear quite similar from a distance. They are small and brown colored (soft/gray-brown chest and belly with a striped back). What do you think? Can you tell them apart from these descriptions? IMG_4650 IMG_5179 IMG_4799
      • cindy
        Participant
        Chirps: 16
        I’m motivated to try and ID my sparrows now after reading your post.  At least I think they are sparrows!  Tomorrow at light I will try again.... they seem to all look alike to me.  There may be a Carolina Wren in there too.  (Charleston, SC)
      • Jay
        Participant
        Chirps: 19

        @cindy Go for it! You’ll probably find many are European House Sparrows... but, stick with it, the native sparrows are quite interesting!! (And you’ll def. be able to tell Carolina Wren from his high-volume/high-energy song as well as his distinctive shape and feeding habit)!

      • Julian
        Participant
        Chirps: 11
        Classifying sparrows is eating my lunch! Sometimes I give up until I hear a familiar song.
      • Paula
        Participant
        Chirps: 19
        I find them really challenging too. In fact, I never realized there were so many different types. I tried identifying them the other day.  I will try again tomorrow if the weather clears up.  Maybe together we'll all get better at it.
      • Michelle
        Participant
        Chirps: 6
        I also struggle with sparrows.  One helpful learning tool I have found is to use Cornell's AllboutBirds by typing in sparrow1 vs sparrow2 in Google.  Here is one that I repeat often: https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/American_Tree_Sparrow/id
      • Paula
        Participant
        Chirps: 19

        @Michelle Thanks.  That's helpful.

    • Mackenna
      Participant
      Chirps: 2
      Morning doves are my favorite kind of bird. Its makes a cooing sound and has a few brown spots on its neck. For size it is the same as a pigeon. There are several of their nests around my house. IMG_3367
      • cindy
        Participant
        Chirps: 16
        Thanks for posting about the dove.  I guess I didn’t appreciate it enough and now that I know it is someone’s favorite, I will give it more attention.  :)
    • Kristin
      Participant
      Chirps: 1
      sapsucker feederGrackles and red winged blackbirds at the Sapsucker feeders today.