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

    • Kyle
      Participant
      Chirps: 8
      1.  I identified a house finch from shape and color.  It was tricky because so many of the sparrows and house finches look alike.  I'm wondering if molting makes a difference in identifying. 3. I noticed sparrows and chickadees coming to my birdfeeder.  They would come for some seeds, fill up, and retreat to a nearby tree. Then, they would repeat. 4. I love Carolina Chickadees.  They are smaller than sparrows.  They have a black crown/nape and black throat.  The back is gray with a whitish belly.  In PA, they seem to be at the top of their range and they go further south in the US East Coast.  Their sound is a squeaky whistle.
    • Jessica
      Participant
      Chirps: 6
      Activity 1:  I identified an American Goldfinch and an American Robin just by noting shape.  The Goldfinch was much smaller than the Robin.  The Goldfinch was also more prone to be perched on my feeders whereas the Robin stayed on  the ground in search of food. Activity 2:   An American Crow, a Red-Winged Black Bird, and a Common Grackle.  I have the privilege of working as a wildlife rehabilitator and we have all three of these species in rehab currently!  The American Crow is obviously much larger than the other two species.  Red-winged Black Birds and Common Grackles are a little difficult from afar but once one sees the red wing--it is easy! Activity 3:  An American Robin as described above searching the ground for worms; several Mourning Doves also on the ground eating bird seed right underneath the feeders; and an Eastern Phoebe going after bugs in mid-air. Activity 4:  One of my favorite birds is the Carolina Wren because it is very vocal, bright, and alert.  It is a smaller bird not much larger than the finch-size and is round--almost kind of plump.  It was singing it's classic "tee-kettle--tee--kettle" song while hopping around the entrance of the garage.  It had the white patch under the beak and the very noticeable white streak over its eye.
    • marcia
      Participant
      Chirps: 1
      how do i join the discussion? did I do it? 1:  ok.  two birds of different shapes - I'm going to go v easy, because every day I see a Bald Eagle on the lake, and also a humming bird.  Their shapes are so vastly different, at each end of the spectrum!  The bald eagle is an apex predator, very large, and the wingspan casts a large shadow over the viewers!  Mine perches in a tree across the lake, and is visible to the eye.  On the other hand, my hummingbird flits so fast, and is so small, that I can't identify WHICH hummingbird it is, so i have to look at the regional guides!   2.  For birds of the same color, i will go w cormorant and crow. both black,  both large, but cormorant much larger than the crow, at least by half.  and cormorant spreads its wings on a log on the lake... where as crow tends to habitat in the trees. I'll skip three.   4.  I love the newly discovered Green Heron. No green on its body!  yet its size is  between a crow and a kestral.  it has green legs.  and it lives in the marsh, perching on fallen logs and bare branches of pine.  It usually wanders alone, even the children!  
      • Kyle
        Participant
        Chirps: 8
        My 6 year-old son is really wanting to see a Green Heron.  So far, only Great Blues...
    • Activity 1 - A White Breasted Nuthatch is a bird with a distinct shape. It has a torso that is parallel to the tree surface, when it is climbing down a tree. And its' beak and head face straight up, in correlation to its' torso. A Northern Cardinal has a 'permacrest,' I would call it. Unlike a titmouse, its' 'permacrest,' is solid, and does not change in relation to its' animal instincts. I guess ? Unlike a Titmouse, or the Hooded Merganser. You would never confuse them, but the Cardinal seems, to me, to have a crest/point, that does not change. Activity 2 - 3 Birds with similar, yer different color schemes, are the : ROBIN, the TOWHEE, and the EASTERN BLUEBIRD. They have a color that envelops the upper body, and another color that encompasses the breast. The Towhee has a darker black on the back area, the Robin has a greyer back. And the Bluebird has a reddish/orange breast, and a blue upper back/body. Activity 3 - Junco, Sparrow, and Finches. Seem, to me, to ground forage together, and in similar fashion. I would also say, I may have seen a chickadee join in, but also, chickadees' do their own thing too. Not sure, but in my yard, the chickadee's join the ground foraging, and do more tree foraging too.? Some Finch types do their own thing, and some seem to join the Junco, Sparrow combination. Activity 4 - A Cormorant . I have seen them on the rocks of the water. They have a dark body, and an orange beak. They seem to be the best multi-talented bird. Diving, and swimming, and flying. And size and strength. They have the same attributes as diving waterfowl, but more strength and general animal talent. I saw one last week, and it was not just some duck. I thought it was as diverse as a diving waterfowl, but had the power of an eagle/pelican. Great display on the rocks of the reservoir. Display, drying body, sunbathing, combination.????? Cormorants' all seem to do this. I have seen 2 types. A Great Cormorant, and a ?flightess? one. It had smallish wings. Not sure. One was at a reservoir, One at the ocean beach.  
    • Debbie
      Participant
      Chirps: 1
      Activity #4 - The Cardinal is my favorite bird. The bright red color of the male certainly makes it stand out, although I enjoy the brownish color of the female cardinal too. The black markings on the eye and throat area are a nice compliment to the overall coloring of the bird. I enjoy the happy short chirps and the pretty trills of the cardinals. And I always think of it as a rather quick moving bird that does not seem to stay in one place very long.
    • Jennifer
      Participant
      Chirps: 4
      Activity #1: I was at the coast this past weekend and saw cormorants and pelicans. Besides pelicans being so much larger and lighter colored, they are so much more graceful in flight with slower wing movements and frequent gliding. The cormorants necks are long, they are dark in color and beat their wings so quickly in flight. Very easy to tell the difference.
    • Meg
      Participant
      Chirps: 1
      What I thought was a  Wren that comes to visit me every day and sometimes shows me his wife- I now think is a Northern Mockingbird. The Merlin  app doesn’t show wrens in my area. “My bird” that likes to meet me in the backyard, will have it’s tail sticking up in the air when on watchful alert. I have even seen him (I used to think her) dive bomb on a squirrel scurrying on an electrical wire. This bird and his wife bring me joy. The ring necked doves have been absent for months - just when I thought of building them a nest.
    • Activity 1 - Look for two birds (either outside or on Bird Cams) that you can tell apart just by shape. I decided that I wanted to use Merlin to ID a Barred Owl and a Greater Yellowlegs.  As I have made more and more journeys into the field this year (my first year birding), these are two birds that I can easily ID accurately just because of their body shapes.  Merlin was easy to use too !  I went through the menu and answered the questions and the next thing I knew, Merlin offered several choices based upon my answers and sure enough the Barred Owl was there !  I took a few moments to read the description and then I played it's songs and studied its usual ranges. Then I started at the beginning again and entered the data that best describes the Greater Yellowlegs.  After answering each question, Merlin provided me with a few choices and the Greater Yellowlegs was one of them.  Pretty cool.  I often am up early and head to the shore this time of year and although I try to position myself where the wind and the sun are at my back, it is fun to note that even in silouette - the Greater Yellowlegs is a bird I can positively ID now every time based on its shape.  It's foraging style of rapid leg movements while it sweeps its bill through the water is distinctive too, and these two elements make them easier for me to ID correctly !  I took a few moments to read the description and then I played it's songs and studied its usual ranges. Merlin is a pretty cool, and very accurate tool to assist me in ID'ing birds correctly !   Activity 2: Look for three different birds that have the same color (e.g., black, white, or red), but on different parts of their bodies. The Red-winged Blackbird; the Red-bellied Woodpecker and the Northern Cardinal each have red coloring on their bodies.  Obviously, the Northern Cardinal (Male) is almost fully adorned in red !  But the Red-winged Blackbird only has red coloring on its shoulder patches !  The Red-bellied Woodpecker has red coloring on the crown of its head and it continues down on its nape !  Merlin was very helpful in accurately id'ing these 3 birds, providing me with photos of each, along with a description of each detailing where to find the red (as well as other) coloring on the body of the bird. Activity 3:  Look for three different birds that are searching for food today. What are their food-finding behaviors ? I decided to focus on Shorebirds today for activity # 3 as now (Late August) the Shorebirds are migrating through New England along the shoreline and it is interesting to watch each of their foraging behaviors.  The Snowy Egret is a graceful bird, and I found it today running in shallow water near mud flats chasing and then spearing smaller, minnow size fish.  The Great Blue Heron in contrast positions itself on shoreline edges or in the water and doesn't move at all.  It almost becomes a statue until an unsuspecting smaller fish comes by, and the Great Blue Heron will move swiftly be striking with its neck and bill to snare its food.  The Greater Yellowlegs, moves around shallow and mid-deep water with erratic movements as it swings its bill back & forth side to side to catch fish and other food ! 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). One of my favorite birds has become the Alder Flycatcher.  While it is small and somewhat drab (olive green) colored bird, with black wings.  It is larger than a sparrow but smaller in size than a robin.  It has two distinctive, white wing bars on its black wings and it has a distinctive "rreeBEER' song.  It also will make a "pip" call !  The Alder's we observed nested in bushes approximately 5 feet above the ground and immediately adjacent to a pool of water.  This Spring and Summer, a close friend uncovered this pair of Alders and allowed me to observe them with him several times a week !  We watched them bring nesting materials, then we discovered their nest in the bushes, and we observed them feeding their newborn in the nest with food they would catch; and then finally we observed the newborns leaving the nest ! This was an exciting breeding season for me to watch, and that fact that Alder Flycatchers have not been confirmed breeding up here in Essex County, made this fun for me !  
    • Lou Anne
      Participant
      Chirps: 7
      Activity 1: I went to the wall of birds and voted for the barn owl, the wood duck, the brown creeper, brown thrasher, and the great blue heron.  Also Activity 1 was to id 2 bird by shape:  I know a turkey vulture by its shape high in the sky and how it soars.  I know a gold finch by it's small size.  Activity 2 three birds of the same color would be the northern cardinal, summer tanager and scarlet tanager:  the northern cardinal has a black mask and the rest of him is red, the scarlet tanager has black wings and the rest of him is red, the summer tanager is all red. Activity 3:  A barn swallow flies through the air to catch insects, a house sparrow finds food (seeds and insects) near the ground, a downy woodpecker pecks a wooden post in my back yard for insects.  Activity 4:One of my favorite birds is the cedar waxwing:  size-bigger than a sparrow smaller than a robin;shape-rounded, short tail triangular wings; color pattern and markings brownish gray with a black mask, black beak, white under tail coverts and has a crest, yellow tipped tail; behavior-small flocks; habitat and range-nests in brushy areas like old fields and stream edges. winters in open woods or suburbs where berries are plentiful;and sounds a series of call notes.  a high thin clear or slightly trilled sreeee given in chorus from flock.
    • RuthAnn
      Participant
      Chirps: 1
      Activity #1: Two birds I can tell apart by shape are the great blue herons vs. bald eagles. Activity #2:  I chose to identify birds with the color white.  While using binoculars at an estuary, I spotted a heron-like bird that was definitely not a great blue heron because it was all white.  With the help of Merlin and my field guide, I discovered it was a great egret.  I also identified a black capped chickadee and a ring billed gull.  All 3 birds have white coloring. Activity #3:  Birds at my sunflower chips feeder today include black-capped chickadee, American goldfinch, and dark-eyed junco.  Wading, fishing birds included the herons and egrets, and an osprey was hovering before diving at the estuary.
    • Patrick
      Participant
      Chirps: 3
      Activity 2   three birds all have bright red somewhere and are all  found locally   the eastern rosella has a right red head, speckled wings and green tail   the musk lorikeet is mostly green with a red patch on the crown and extending around the eye the rainbow lorikeet is bright purplish blue on th ehewd, red beak and chest and green tail
    • Patricia
      Participant
      Chirps: 21
      1. I can always identify Brown Pelicans and Turkey Vultures.  I can often identify family of species with shapes like Finch, Sparrows, Seagulls, and Hummingbirds.  2.  I found three birds with black color; Black Phoebe is black with a clean white belly; Red-Winged Blackbird is black with red shoulder patches; and Brewer's Blackbird which is glossy black with purplish head and greenish sheen on the body.  3.  I went to the Harbor Ponds and found three birds searching for food;  Mallard Duck hunts with its bottom up head in the pond;  Common Loon is frequently diving for fish and travels about;  and Ruddy Ducks dive to the bottom of the pond to feed on the vegetation.  4.  This weeks favorite bird has been visiting my fountain on a regular basis throughout the day.  It is an American Goldfinch, his size and shape is a small finch, with a small head, long wings, with a short notched tail; color pattern and marking is bright yellow with a black cap, white rump, and a little edge of white around his wings and tail; flight pattern is active and acrobatic like a roller coaster; habitat is across the street from me in the neighbors back yard shrubs.
    • Jennifer
      Participant
      Chirps: 8
      Activity 4.  My favorite bird is the Western Tanager. Seeing this bird really encouraged me to go further in to birdwatching. It's between the size of a Sparrow and a Robin. The male is bright yellow, with a red head and black wings. I first noticed them because of their sounds. They are quite loud and chatter to each other while up in the canopies of trees. It's their sound that brought me outside to investigate what was making all the noise!
    • Katheryne
      Participant
      Chirps: 2
      Collage 2 Some of the birds at my feeder in Middle Tennessee.
    • Katheryne
      Participant
      Chirps: 2
      Bird Watching Cornell Activities Lesson 2 Activity 1: Look for two birds (either outside or on Bird Cams) that you can tell apart just by shape. Try to identify them using Merlin or a field guide. Share your findings in the discussion. 1.    Northern Cardinal – medium size / long tail / short beak 2.    Carolina Wren – very small / had one on a limb in my back yard / sings very loud / beak has a curve in it   Activity 2: Look for three different birds that have the same color (e.g., black, white, or red), but on different parts of their bodies. Try to identify them using Merlin or a field guide. Share your findings in the discussion. 1.    Carolina Chickadee – Black Head / Black neck in front / beige and yellow sides / white underpart 2.    Black Capped Chickadee – Black head / short beak/ white edges on wings and tail / Black neck in front / gold, beige under wing / white underparts 3.    White Breasted Nuthatch – Black head / back of neck is black but front of neck is white. Under beak all down throat and underparts are white. Black wings have blue tips with some white. After reading further and learning the “parts” of a bird, I have rewritten my descriptions: 1.    Carolina Chickadee – Black head / black throat / beige and yellow flank / white chest and belly 2.    Black Capped Chickadee – Black head / short upper and lower bill/beak / white edges on uppertail coverts and undertail coverts / Black throat / gold/beige under wings / white belly 3.    White Breasted Nuthatch – Black head / Black nape / white throat. White from throat and through belly. Black wings layered with blue and white.   Activity 3: Look for three different birds that are searching for food today. What are their food-finding behaviors? Try to identify them using Merlin or a field guide. Share your finding in the discussion. I have a bird feeder on my patio. The American Goldfinch seem to like only one Goldfinch at a time at the feeder. I have seen them sort of peck at one another. One flies away. The Common Redpoll (male and female) get along quite well. The Wren family is very compatible. The Northern Cardinal are bigger than the American Finch and the Redpolls. The smaller birds will fly away if there is not enough room at the feeder when the Cards come in.   Activity 4: Pick your favorite bird, 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. My favorite bird is the Northern Cardinal. It is medium size; very beautiful red for the mail; goldish and some red for the female. Both male and female have a crested head. The male and female seem to have the small calls but the male is louder, I think. Also, I think they talk to each other late in the afternoon. We pretend they are talking about what they will have for dinner!
    • Patrick
      Participant
      Chirps: 3
      Activity 1.   Superb fairy wren and Willis wagtail are both small ground foraging birds common here.   there are obvious colour differences but the shape is also different. The fairy wren is smaller, has a rounder body and its tail tends to stand up vertical most of the time. The Willy wag Tain is slightly large, more elongated body the tail stretches out flatter compared with the fairy wren.   the colour is different of course the Willy wag tail being back and white, and the superb fairy wren either grey brown ( the female) of blue and black ( them male)  
    • Nora
      Participant
      Chirps: 4
      Activity 2 Black caped chickadee and the white breasted nuthatch. Their colors are white, black and gray.
    • Nora
      Participant
      Chirps: 4
      Activity 1 Great Egret and tufted titmouse The Titmouse is small bird they come to my bird feeder a lot. They have a tuft on there head. The Egret is big there is one in the marsh today.  
    • Patrick
      Participant
      Chirps: 3
      Activity 4. Favourite bird is the Grey Butcherbird , largely because of its beautiful song. It is medium size , slightly smaller than the raven .it has a grey body with whitish chest, and black on crown and face , tip of beak , wings . It perches in trees looking for prey. It can be heard especially early morning with a almost laugh like sound.
    • Claudia
      Participant
      Chirps: 4
      1. Mocking bird and Mourning Dove: The Mocking bird is more slender, longer tail, obvious legs while the dove is rounded, with shorter legs and smallish seeming head for its body. 2.Three woodpeckers with red, black and white: Pileated, smaller spot on back of head, long skinny neck, more black than white-white around head; Red-bellied little red on head, white front and neck, thin black and white stripes on wings; Red-headed, all red head, white chest, black wings with large white splashes. They are easy to distinguish when looking at those three colors. 3. Eastern Kingbird is a large flycatcher that perches on tops of tree limbs and then quickly snatches large insects. Chimney Swift flies around swooping but always high in the air. Eastern Bluebird perches on fences, telephone wires and flies down to the grass to grab and insect. 4. I love the Swallow-tailed kite, a large bird with its striking white body outlined with black and its deeply forked tail, which it uses like a rudder on a sailboat. I rarely see it in a tree but only flying often very low and swooping to get insects or lizards. It is only in our area May through July but I love to watch it swoop by.  
    • Mary
      Participant
      Chirps: 12
      Activity 1:  I have never known the difference between a sparrow and a wren. So now it is time to find out.  With the help of Merlin, I can compare photos of the two types.  Both are small brown birds, with various types of markings.  But it seems to me that the most obvious difference between the two is the beak.  The wren has a beak that is long thin and pointed like a needle. The sparrow's beak is short and thick. I know there must be other differences to distinguish them, but this one characteristic seems most obvious to me now.
      • Lou Anne
        Participant
        Chirps: 7
        Hi Mary Lou,  One other difference I have learned is that wrens raise their tail in the air.  Happy learning Lou Anne.
    • Luke
      Participant
      Chirps: 18
      Activity 1: Two birds I have learned to tell apart by shape are the Bald Eagle and the Turkey Vulture. When soaring  Turkey Vultures hold their wings in a distinctive V shape and Bald Eagles hold their wings absolutely flat out. I can tell the difference even at a great distance or when the bird is silhouetted in the sky. Activity 2: Eastern Phoebes are gray/brown above white below with a darker head. Black-capped Chickadees have a black cap and throat bib and white cheeks. White-breasted Nuthatches have a white face with a black cap and nape. All three come up as choices for the Merlin search” sparrow sized, black, gray and white, in trees or bushes. Activity 3: Eastern Phoebes take short flights from a perch to grab insects from the air. Chipping sparrows forage on the ground for seeds and insects. Baltimore Orioles hops branch to branch combing the tree canopies for insects. Activity 4: My favorite bird for this lesson is the Carolina Wren
      • Size and Shape: sparrow sized, slightly curved bill, tail as long as body
      • Color Pattern and Markings: brown above, white below, bold white eyebrow stripe and whitish throat
      • Behavior: forages for insects in dense vegetation, wood or brush piles, and tree cavities
      • Habitat and Range: year-round resident of the eastern USA from New York south to Florida west to Kansas Northeast Mexico and the Yucatán peninsula
      • Sounds: very loud “ teakettle-teakettle-teakettle “
    • Cecilia
      Participant
      Chirps: 19
      Activity 1: Cardinal - medium-sized, with short, thick, beak.  Cat bird - medium sized, with thin beak and long tail. Activity 2: Pileated woodpecker (red crest), robin (red breast), and red-winged blackbird (red on wings). Activity 3: Eastern bluebird - swoops over fields to catch flying bugs. Robin - pecks in the ground to find worms.  Red-tailed hawk - perches in trees at the edges of fields waiting to see small animals on the ground.
    • Kathy
      Participant
      Chirps: 21
      Activity 4: Hard to choose, but my spark bird was the Belted Kingfisher, with its blue color head and breast band and shaggy crest and white neck. Robin-sized with the behavior of perching on a branch at a pond (or other body of water) and plunging in the water headfirst to hunt for fish. Such a beautiful hunting display and an unforgettable - rattle call....
      • Lou Anne
        Participant
        Chirps: 7
        I love the belted kingfisher's call.  It's very distinct.  Lou Anne
    • Kathy
      Participant
      Chirps: 21
      Activity 3: Watched a common tern dive from the air for food in the harbor at my local park , while a cormorant, was on top of the water and would dive down be gone for a minute and seem to come up each time with a meal. The gull that followed the Tern, chased it until the Tern dropped it in the water...the gull gave up quick trying to find it on the waters' surface, but the Tern circled back when the gull (there were two at this point) left and picked it back up in exactly the same spot it dropped it...Terns are smart! Different fishing techniques, but the cormorant seemed to be most successful.