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

    • Susan
      Participant
      Chirps: 7
      I saw two black, white, and red birds in my backyard and looked at a third one on Merlin.  all 3 are woodpeckers.   The downy has a red spot on the back of the neck area and wings that black on the upper part and black and white stripes on the lower part.  The red-bellied has red at the back and top of it’s head with wings that are black and white striped. The pileated has a red crest at the top of it’s head and the wings are virtually all black.
    • Susan
      Participant
      Chirps: 7
      Activity 1:   I saw a downy woodpecker and a house sparrow in my my backyard.   The house sparrow has a horizontal oval body with a round head.  The downy woodpecker has a vertical oval body and round head.
    • Beth
      Participant
      Chirps: 13
      I identified a white-breasted nuthatch at our bird feeder using the Merlin app.  I have also seen him creeping down the tree trunk.  I identified a hairy woodpecker pecking upwards in our river birch tree using Merlin.  The Merlin app is very helpful in suggesting likely birds.  I also like using a state field guide with good photos and a limited listing, based on color.
    • Raphael
      Participant
      Chirps: 10
      I went birding in Central Park the other morning, and we noticed multiple warblers in the bushes/trees. Some included Northern Parulas, Magnolia Warblers, Chestnut-sided Warblers, and American Redstarts (to name a few.) To the untrained and novice eye, they all looked the same, and it was very difficult to realize what each bird truly was. The only one I was able to slowly recognize were the Northern Parulas because of the pale yellow's/gray's they were showing and their black and yellow bills. Warblers are going to be a fun challenge for me to learn and master; I can't wait.
    • Pamela
      Participant
      Chirps: 2
      I went bird watching at a local lake. I spotted 5 black larger birds sitting on a log along side of the lake.using the Merlin ID app I was able to chose the birds I was seeing. How exciting and thrilling. They were the double crested Cormorants.
    • Gretel
      Participant
      Chirps: 11
      I love watching the Northern Royal Albatross live cam - very distinctive shape these birds have, with a beak like no other! Every year around this time in Melbourne, Australia, we have peregrine falcons nest at the same spot high on a building (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Un8f85yADAU). Easy to tell the difference between an albatross and a falcon if you are looking at shape. As an very fresh birder myself I find birds of prey very difficult to ID, but I am learning! They are about the size of a crow, when looking at relative size, and apparently have long primary feathers which gives it a long wing shape.
    • Nancy
      Participant
      Chirps: 8
      Activity 1: House Sparrow: small, round body and round head with hardly any visible neck, small but sturdy beak, medium length tail. Blue Jay: medium-sized oval-shaped body, longer but thinner beak than sparrow, visible crest on head, has a short neck. Activity 2: Northern Mockingbird: Gray/brown medium thin body, roundish head, beige under body/belly, thin medium-sized black beak, dorsal side of wings are black with wide white stripes/bars, long tail.  Song Sparrow: small round brown body with black streaks, black bib, small stout black beak, whitish underbelly, round head with white cheeks and gray crown, medium length tail. Red-winged Blackbird: sleek black body and head, pointy black beak, black wings with bright red epaulettes where yellow lower edges are lined with yellow, fan-like black tail. Activity 3: European Starling eating at feeder stays in one place picking up one large seed at a time in its beak, chews and swallows it before picking up another seed; leaves feeder carrying one seed in its beak. Northern Cardinal hangs on the feeder with small seeds, pecks at it then moves to the feeder with large seeds after the starling leaves, picks up one large seed and flies away.  Pileated Woodpecker hangs on the side of bird feeder consistently pecking deep into the feeder for seed, flies away, then comes back and repeats the same pecking behavior. Activity 4: Northern Cardinal: Large oval-shaped red body with long red tail with black blended in, pointy red tuft/crest on red head, head has mask around thick short orange beak, black beard, black blended into the wings, seen in my backyard sitting on a fence post.
    • Emily
      Participant
      Chirps: 23
      Activity 4: One of my favorites is the brown headed nuthatch. I learned its sound before i ever saw one. Their habitat and range is pine forests in the southeast. Their behavior is they stay at the tops of pine trees walking all around and up and down the trunk and branches looking for food. Their sound is unique. They truly sound like a rubber ducky being squeezed then released to inflate again. Their size is small, sparrow small. If seen, the observer may notice a white neck and underbelly with a brown cap on the head and the back and wings look grey.
    • Emily
      Participant
      Chirps: 23
      Activity 3: the American robin hunts for food on the ground picking through the grass and dirt in search of worms. Mallard ducks bob in the water(head down/tail up) sifting the bottom for food. the sanderling, a shorebird, runs toward the receding waves to find anything uncovered by the previous wave before another wave comes in where they proceed to run away and then repeats the cycle.
    • Emily
      Participant
      Chirps: 23
      Activity 2: I live by water and many birds have the same color. Wading birds and shore birds have the same colors just often times in different areas or with with slight differences. The 3 egrets: the great, snowy and cattle are all white with either black or yellow legs and beak. The great egret is much larger then the other 2 so they aren’t too easy to confuse. They have a yellow bill with black legs and feet. The snowy and cattle egret are closer in size and can get confused. The snowy has a black beak with black legs and yellow feet, whereas the cattle egret has yellow bill with yellow legs and feet in breeding and grey to black legs in winter. Really have to notice the yellow and where it is located to correctly identify. using merlin and saying you saw an all white bird wading in the water will bring them all up as possibilities.
    • Emily
      Participant
      Chirps: 23
      Activity 1: A lot of birds can be distinguished by shape alone. 2 easy backyard birds for myself are the morning dove and the northern cardinal. Their overall shapes are completely different. The dove has a small head and thinner bill. They have the appearance of almost sitting. Cardinals on the other hand have a larger head with a crest on the top and a wider more cone like bill. Their stance makes them look taller giving them a standing appearance.
    • Alanna
      Participant
      Chirps: 15
      Activity 1: There are two birds that I can tell apart by their shape that is the Song Sparrow and Black-capped Chickadee. They come to my window feeder quite often. The Black-capped Chickadee has a big head and a plump body with a short and stubby bill. The Song sparrow is a bit larger than the Black-capped Chickadee but has a smaller head and has more of a rounded tail. The bird has streaks down its body. Activity 3: The Song Sparrow would peck at its food instead of hammering like the Black-capped Chickadee would do to open the sunflower seeds. The Mourning Dove would peck at the seeds laying all over the ground from the feeder up above them. The doves would also look up at times too.
    • Trina
      Participant
      Chirps: 3
      My Spotted Towhee...comes around several times every day, always from the southeast.  Perches and bounces around my sumac grove, works his way to the ground cover, drinks at one of my birdbaths, nibbles on peanut/suet chips that the woodpeckers have left on the ground and hops on over to the mulch area behind my veggies.  Pretty funny - I know his MO!  I'd never seen this bird in my yard before this year.  I heard his distinctive call weeks before I ever saw him.  I submitted an audio recording to iNaturalist and in short order had a couple of people tell me it was a Spotted Towhee. Also, I've had a noisy group of four small gray/white birds come marauding thru.  Thought they were blue/gray gnatcatchers - but NO, Bushtits.  Their gregarious ruckus is unmistakable! More newbies this year, are both a white-breasted and red-breasted nuthatch.  Both like my peanut/suet feeders as well as the peanuts in the mix I leave for my squirrels.  Guess I need to invest in an official peanut feeder now! Saw a red-tail hawk thermalling today.
    • Trina
      Participant
      Chirps: 3
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    • Leiann
      Participant
      Chirps: 2
      Activity 3: Today I saw a Downy Woodpecker on one tree trunk going UP the tree looking for food, and a White-breasted Nuthatch on the tree trunk next to it going DOWN looking for food. They happened to both be in the field of view as I was looking through my binoculars.  Before this lesson, I didn't realize they had different directions!
    • Wanita
      Participant
      Chirps: 2
      I put out a bird feeder tray and waited a few days.... I saw the odd bird, but today WOW !  I had a couple female house finches and a male house finch (red head and breast), and dark eyed Juncos and even a red breasted Nuthatch!  I took a lousy picture with my cellphone held up to my binoculars, but it wasn't good enough to post here.  In lieu of my picture, I will post a picture of the majestic Bald Eagle that was spotted by my husband in Tofino on the West Coast of Vancouver Island on July 6th.  Enjoy!received_827443007957352
      • Gretel
        Participant
        Chirps: 11
        Beautiful white cap!
      • Raphael
        Participant
        Chirps: 10
        Incredible photo!!
      • Alicia
        Participant
        Chirps: 23
        Wow - what a gorgeous picture! At first I thought you were going to say the eagle showed up at your bird feeder. :-)
    • Carla
      Participant
      Chirps: 3
      Activity 3: I observed a crow, a woodpecker, and a smaller bird, a dark-eyed junco. We have a compost area in our backyard that's just out in the open (the bear kept knocking down our black bin!), and that's the crows favorite hunting ground. They will hop and bob along, and seemingly finickily choose what they'd like. I noticed that they either eat something on site, or will stuff as much as they could in their beak and fly off. I believe the one I was watching was a male, and was retrieving food for his young, which may have been in a nest down the hill and across the street. They also love peanuts! They will hold the peanut with their feet, and feverishly peck it open to get the prize. One after another, they go through peanuts rapidly! We have a suet feeder across our driveway, and the woodpecker (maybe a downy?) loves that! I will see them mainly on the suet, hanging out for longer stretches of time, happily munching away. The dark-eyed juncos seem to like the seeds dropped from the feeder, more than eating on the feeder itself. I'll often see them, maybe 3 or 4 gathered right below the feeder, eating. I have seen them on the feeder, too, just not as frequently as chickadees, sparrows, and cardinals. They also seem to hang out a little longer on the ground while they eat.
    • Lorin
      Participant
      Chirps: 4
      Went to my favorite local patch (Boardman Wetlands, NCPRD) in the evening on a hot day for this one. 1. Picked a crow and a barn swallow. The crow was easy, and it was the first bird choice Merlin gave me. Some others were more interesting, such as Wood Duck and Eurasian Collared Dove, when the only color I gave was black. I used red, blue and white for the Barn Swallow and it was the second choice on the Merlin list, right below the Cliff Swallow which also worked given those parameters. 2. Picked the colors black, white and red and it gave me my birds: Downy Woodpecker, House Sparrow (although red is  bit of a stretch on that one) and House Finch. Lots of good bird choices on the list. 3. The swallows (Barn and Violet Green) were hunting for insects on the wing over the marshlands and ponds. The mallards were dabbling in the increasingly shallow and murky marsh, butts in the air, but I'm not sure exactly what they were after, even after all the birding I've done. Whatever they can get in their bills, I suppose. The Lesser Goldfinches nibbled tentatively at the buds on the trees. 4. Hard to pick a favorite bird; this is the only bird I didn't see tonight but I did see it the other day at this location: Green Heron. I spent all year chasing this bird, and got one bad look at it about 40 miles north of here earlier this year so I was thrilled to get a good long 5 minute look at it out in the open just the other day at my local patch (without my camera of course).  We are in a wet, temperate climate, just a few miles north of the 45th parallel. This was my first good, long look at it. It was smaller than I'd imagined; rather the sized of a large chicken. But what an extraordinary bird. Those greenish wings with the grey outline, the rust red neck mottled with dun stripes, the intense eye and the yellow lines on the face. Stalking secretively through the marsh, one wary eye on me at all times. I've always found this bird eerie, intense even: if there's ever a bird that reminded me that dinosaurs still roam the earth, it's this one. I'd hate to be a frog when this guy is stalking the marsh. Fascinating, beautiful, and alien. He did not vocalize.
    • Dominique
      Participant
      Chirps: 21
      Activity 4: Olive-backed sunbird: it is a small bird (smaller than a sparrow) with dark olive green back whereas the underside (belly) is bright yellow. the beak is slender and curves downwards. The male has an iridescent dark throat and upper breast (like a long bib), whereas the female is duller overall and doesn’t have that iridescent dark marking. Common garden bird in Malaysia, and it  moves fast and feeds on flower nectar.
    • Dennis
      Participant
      Chirps: 2
      Activity 1: Two swallows that bugged me in ID-ing are the barn swallow and the chimney swift. The swift is just a cigar shaped bird with wings and the swallow has the forked tail. Activity 2: Blue, black and white. Blue Jay, Tree Swallow and Tufted Titmouse. Slightly different shades of blue and patterned differently. Activity 3: I went for a short walk today and saw barn swallows at a lake. They were basically snagging insects out of the air, apparently up to 100 ft. I also saw a Northern Cardinal. He tends to hang out in lower trees and bushes and forages on seeds near the ground. Finally, Black Crested Night Heron was sitting next to fisherman at the lake and looking to steal their fish! Activity 4: Think my favorite local bird so far has been the Barred Owl. He is a large bird, bigger than a crow and obviously owl shaped. He is a brown and white bird with vertical stripes and horizontal lines on front and neck, respectively. His wings are checkered like and face has circular brown lines over white. His sound is notable 8-9 notes and he is a nocturnal animal staying often in trees in mature forests, nesting in tree cavities.
    • Armando
      Participant
      Chirps: 8
      The Phainopepla is my favorite local bird, so I'll use this as my example. For it's shape, it's crest sticks out quite tall to me, and you can see most of the individual feathers in the crest. It sits on a perch somewhat straight up or with a slight forward lean. It also has a long tail. It's color pattern is all glossy black on males with red eyes. Females are more dark gray with white edging on wing feathers. I've noted a flycatching feeding behavior with some of the specimens I saw in the field. They wait on a perch, and quickly fly out at some prey and return.
    • Yvonne
      Participant
      Chirps: 7
      I can't seem to keep my remarks when I go back to look at other activities..  I am using the Midwestern Birds backyard guide to help me with these discussions as my bird watching is somewhat limited.  AS we all venture out over time I expect to increase the number of birds I see.  The 2 I have chosen to look at are woodpeckers.  Colors are red, black and white and of course the bills are different and the size of head.  The bill is longer on the Hairy Woodpecker and the head is somewhat  larger. The woodpecker that feeds at my bird feed is a Downy Woodpecker, it the Downey is much smaller both bill and head. The Downey's red patch is a little larger, but it is definitely smaller.
    • Jeanne
      Participant
      Chirps: 4
      One of my favorite birds is the American Kestrel. I really enjoyed learning about the differences of this raptor compared to the others.  I didnt know that there were so many other sub-species and the American Kestrel is the only one in the New World. The Kestrel is the smallest of the raptors about the size of a mourning dove! The male  and female have different markings as well; which I didnt know! The male has a small rusty coloring on the top of his head with a grey-blue band underneath but above his eye. The males also have the beautiful grey-blue color on their wing while the females do not. The males chests are white with black dots, while the female has brown dashes. These raptors hunt by hovering 35 to 65 feet over fields and they have ultra-violet sensitivity so they are able to hunt voles successfully.  I also find amazing that they do not build their own nests; they use other bird nests; I would like to know which bird nests they prefer to use!
    • Marcy
      Participant
      Chirps: 8
      Activity 1-I have used the Merlin App to identify many birds near my home. One bird I identified just by its shape was the Wood Duck.  I knew it was a duck, but its crown had such a distinctive shape that as soon as I saw it on Merlin I knew that was my bird! Activity 2-3 birds with similar colors that I have identified using Merlin and my field guide are the black, grey and white 1) black Phoebe, 2) Black-throated Sparrow and 3) Dark-eyed Junco.  They are all similar in color and I had to really watch and observe and research a little to find which bird I was looking at. I have to say how surprised I am at the variety of bird I have found right in my own yard! Activity 4-How could I pick just one favorite?!  One I have really enjoyed in this new birding journey is the White Crowned Sparrow because it was one of the first small birds I became confident identifying regularly on my own and because I enjoyed watching them at my yard feeder every evening this Spring.  It is small, sparrow-sized. It is mostly brown with small white and darker brown spots on its wings.  On its crown are distinctive black and white stripes. It has a yellow beak.
    • Marcy
      Participant
      Chirps: 8
      Activity 3- Yesterday I watched a flock of Cedar Waxwing birds eating Mulberries from my tree. They would fly in rather quickly and spend a few minutes foraging the berries.  I was surprised to see them swallow the whole berry straight down!  After a few minutes, they would fly off.  I would wait for a bit and then they would come back and forage again. I also watched a Scrub Jay eat the berries.  He hopped along the fence and then would hop to the tree and eat.  Sometimes he even ate the berries off the ground. Today I saw a female Nuttall's Woodpecker hang upside down to get to one of the berries!