The Cornell Lab Bird Academy Discussion Groups Joy of Birdwatching Activities: Local Bird Exploration

    • Linda
      Participant
      Chirps: 4
      Hi!  I now know about grey catbirds...have heard them many times but finally put a face to the song!
    • Jacquie
      Participant
      Chirps: 2
      My son and I are taking this course together.  We did these activities and really enjoyed learning about local birds. My son started his life list last week and already has identified 14 birds in our backyard.  Instead of doing the suggested activities, we are using what we learned in this lesson to plan our upcoming vacation bird watching since we're going to the beach and aren't as familiar with shore birds.  We have our binoculars ready!
    • Laurie
      Participant
      Chirps: 5
      Activity #1: We went for a walk yesterday and we saw, the Red Tailed Hawk, the Black Phoebe, Bewick's Wren, Northern Mockingbird, a Mourning Dove, and we heard: and Spotted Towhee, and a California Scrub Jay. Activity#2: We have seen many of the birds that were "most likely", but we will try to spot the Dark-Eyed Junco. Activity#3: The birds we did not know about are, the Violet-Green Swallow, the American Kestrel, Costa's Hummingbird, the Mountain Chickadee, and the Peregrine Falcon.IMG_3776
    • Cathy
      Participant
      Chirps: 45
      1.  Bird watching exercise.  I looked in the area by my apartment for 10 or 15 minutes for this exercise.   I saw crows, sparrows, robins, and many blue jays.  I hadn't previously noticed how steeply blue jays could dive, and how quick the birds are.   I also noticed that birds often chase each other.  I always knew this but now that I am paying more attention, this seems to be more noticeable to me.   On this day, the crows and sparrows were chasing each other.  But yesterday I saw 2 different species of sparrows chasing each other and actually seeming to fight.  I was quite surprised at how aggressive one of them was. 2.  Merlin's locality tool.  I was very surprised at some of the birds which I could, in theory, see in my area.  I also noticed a bird that I could add to my life list, the orchard oriole. Activity 3: Using range maps or bar charts, find five birds that pass through your area that you didn’t know about:   I didn't know that the following birds could be in my area:  Wood Duck, American Kestrel, Green Heron, Virginia Rail, Cedar WaxWing.  I was surprised to see the Peregrine Falcon on the list.  The university that I went to in the MidWest helped with an initiative to help increase their population in the 1980s.  I was surprised to learn, when I listened to the call recording, that I have likely heard them out East in Maryland where I am currently living.
    • Jon
      Participant
      Chirps: 5
      NorthernFlickerBelmontPond061620_1587NorthernFlickerBelmontPond061620_1592 Saw this northern flicker taking a drink at the pond at Fox Run in Novi, Michigan, June 16, 2020.
      • Jacquie
        Participant
        Chirps: 2
        Wow, great photos!  I am never fast enough to get good bird shots.
      • Jamies
        Participant
        Chirps: 10

        @Jacquie Same here. We need to be very agile and have a good camera with zooming function to get great shots of birds around. I wonder what cameras most people use in the Bird Academy.

    • Lesley
      Participant
      Chirps: 7
      Activity 1: Walking along the shore in our community on Vancouver Island, I noticed three black birds, between a crow and a goose in size, that were sitting out on rocks offshore., and was uncertain about their identity. I am familiar with cormorants as well as Surf Scoters and Black Oystercatchers, but these three did not match exactly the profile of any of these, although the Oystercatcher was my best guess even though I couldn't see red beaks or legs. The Merlin app confirmed this identification based on the posture of the birds perched on the rocks. Activity 2: Most Likely to be seen today? Several at my feeder! Two Bandtailed Pigeons that squeeze themselves into the feeder and sit there to eat are especially amusing. Activity 3: Using ebird bar charts, I searched on my region: Northern Pacific Rainforest, and specified Migration Season to search for five birds that pass through this area that I didn't know about. So many possibilities -- but the real surprises to me, because I thought these birds were more common in the East and I didn't think they would be seen on the west coast of Canada at all, were: Great Egret, Cedar Waxwing, Purple Martin, Yellow Warbler, and California Scrub Jay. I also learned about some birds that I hope to see: Western Tanager, Golden Crowned Kinglet, Western Bluebird, and Red Breasted Sapsucker, if they show up one day in my region.
    • clara
      Participant
      Chirps: 6
      Actividad 1 En el Jardín de mi casa pude observar las siguientes especies de aves Pichitanka (Zonotrichia Capensis), Águila Mora (Geranoaetus Melanoleucos), Gaviota Andina (Chroicocephalus Serranus), Kurkuta (Metropelia Ceciliae), Paloma Manchada (Patagioenas Maculosa), Tortola Torcaza (Zenaida Auriculata), Vencejo Andino (Aeronautes Andecolus), Picaflor Verde (Colibri Curuscans), Picaflor Cometa (Sappho Sparganura), Picaflor Gigante (Patagona Gigas), Carpintero Andino (Colaptes Rupicola), Alkamari (Phalcoboenus Mrgalopterus),Qilli Quilli (Falco Sparverius), Kirki (Psilopsiagan Aymara) Y Canastero Rojizo (Asthenes Dorbignyi) Actividad 2 Las aves que encontré el día de hoy fueron: Águila Mora (Geranoaetus Melanoleucos), Paloma Manchada (Patagioenas Maculosa, Picaflor Verde (Colibri Curuscans), Carpintero Andino (Colaptes Rupicola) Y Alkamari (Phalcoboenus Mrgalopterus) Actividad 3 Los cinco pájaros que pasanpor mi área que no conocía son: Remolinera Común (Cinclodes Albiventris), Chainita Cordillerana (Sparagra Uropygialis), Monterita De Pecho Gris (Poospiza Hypochondria), Mielerito Gris (Conirostrum Cinereum ) Y Amizilia Chionogaster Picaflor De Vientre Blanco.
    • Marcia
      Participant
      Chirps: 7
      Activity 1: I went out in my backyard (I live just north of Toronto) and just sat there. At first I didn't see any birds, although I heard lots. Eventually I started seeing some birds, picking them out against the trees. I was amazed that after an hour, I had seen 11 species: Northern Cardinal, Downy Woodpecker, White-Breasted Nuthatch, Northern Flicker, Mourning Dove, American Robin, Common Grackle, House Sparrow, American Goldfinch, European Starling -- and then a Ruby-throated Hummingbird came to our feeder.   Activity 2: All the birds I saw are on the "Most Likely" list. Nothing rare here -- but still, I was amazed at the diversity!   Activity 3: Apparently the Eastern Bluebird, Indigo Bunting, Blue-winged Warbler, Blue-headed Vireo and Black-billed Cuckoo are all in my area. I've only managed to see the last one -- I'm still on the lookout for the other four!
    • Hannah
      Participant
      Chirps: 8
      Activity 1: My birdwatching spot was on my back deck. I saw Common Grackles, House Finches, Mourning Doves, and an American Robin. I also identified two new birds: a House Wren visiting its nest inside my birdhouse gourd hanging from a tree, and a Song Sparrow eating seed from the ground underneath my feeder (both identified using Merlin!). I heard a warbling song from a tree in my yard, but I was unable to identify the bird it came from. Activity 2: The top seven birds on Merlin’s Most Likely list for my area today are: American Robin (seen today), Red-winged Blackbird (seen today), Ring-billed Gull, Song Sparrow (seen today), American Goldfinch (seen today), Northern Cardinal (seen today), and Common Grackle (seen today). Activity 3: Using eBird, I found the following birds that pass through my area: Yellow-billed Cuckoo, American Coot, Great Black-backed Gull, Green Heron, and Purple Martin.
    • Diane
      Participant
      Chirps: 4
      I didn't realize that I had checked "Family" in the Likely tab.  Seemed to limit my findings.  Switched to "Most Likely" in my current location, and suddenly I started seeing birds I see everyday at the top of the list.  Also, I affirmed my identification of this beauty. (It didn't show up in my previous settings)  Lifelong goal has been to see this  bird in person!   DSC02321 Great Horned Owl.  Located in a tree outside my front door! 5/17/2020 In addition to the owl, I had no idea that I might see Western tanager, Luzuli bunting, wood duck or mute swan in this area.  I generally see less colorful birds.  I hope to see them around!
      • Cathy
        Participant
        Chirps: 45
        Beautiful picture.  I love the expression on it's face!
      • Lisa
        Participant
        Chirps: 15
        Changing the setting to Most Likely was a very helpful tip. I was able to make a list of likely birds that I had not seen yet. The plan is to study how they look, compare to similar birds, study their songs. I have already seen one bird on this list, the Wrentit. I am hoping to identify a bird that I hear everyday but have never seen. It makes a distinctive Wheeeeee sound. If anyone has an idea I would love to hear it. And beautiful photo!
    • Margaret
      Participant
      Chirps: 13
      Activity 3. Using range maps or bar charts, find five birds that pass through your area that you didn’t know about. You can look on eBird, in field guides, on All About Birds, or use Merlin. Using these tools I investigated birds that I had never seen and are hard to spot because of where they alight or fly and because they are present but uncommon. I was unaware that the Indigo Bunting was present in this area.  The male is very blue when breeding, and the nonbreeding male is more speckled blue. Females are brown overall with whitish throats and a bluish tail. This bird seems to have a thick conical beak, darker gray on top and whitish on the bottom. Juliet Berger, our outstanding local ornithologist, has posted a spectrogram, but I find most calls hard to identify and remember. The Yellow Throated Vireo also appears in some of the natural wooded areas in the county according to hotspot checklists on EBird and Merlin. It is sparrow-sized and has a bright yellow head and eye ring (bright yellow spectacles), a white underside and white wingbars on black wings, with a thick bill that looks grayish blue from photos. It often favors tall trees near water. The Red-Eyed Vireo is similarly shaped but differently color patterned. Most of the photos show a dark or gray cap, a white streak above the eye, and a dark line through the eye. The back is yellowish (some descriptions say olive green). While some descriptions say there are no wing bars (patches), the photos show wings that are streaked with light yellow. Advanced birders say the red eyed vireo has a very recognizable song, a broken series of slurred notes ending in either a downslur or upswing, as well as well as a recognizable call. The vireos forage in deciduous canopies, probably difficult to spot. According to both EBird and Merlin, Chimney Swifts are present in the local area in summer and fall. Birders refer to this swift as a “flying cigar” because of its body shape. It has long, sickle-shaped wings. The bill is very short and hard to see, and the Chimney Swift has a very short tail. Its plumage is dark gray-brown. It flies continuously with constant wingbeats (no glide) during the day and nests and roosts in chimneys. It eats insects. (I spotted some high-flying, continuously flapping dark birds in a small group yesterday evening; the flight pattern and bird shape were something I had never seen before, and I couldn't identify them.)
    • Theresa
      Participant
      Chirps: 6
      I've been using Merlin for a while but never utilized the "most likely" feature in Explore Birds.  Tested it out the other night and it is awesome.  I wasn't shocked by the birds at the top of the list--robin, grackle, starling, mourning dove, redwinged blackbird, house sparrow, cardinal--and I think I saw all of them when I went for a walk that evening.  One bird that was just outside the top 10 on the list was brown-headed cowbird, which I've seen in my area but not consistently.  Voila, what do you supposed landed right in my path that very evening, just a few feet away?  :D  Was so tickled to see it.  "Most Likely" will definitely be my default setting in Merlin from now on. It's also interesting that in just a few days, the birds a little further down the list have changed position significantly...according to Merlin, in the next week or so I need to be looking out for bobolinks and meadowlarks in my area, two birds I never would have bothered to look for before.  Just have to find a birding Hot Spot with an open field....      
    • Christopher
      Participant
      Chirps: 3
      Since my vista is my sliding glass door, the array of species I see is fairly limited, however I have identified, by sight and sound: blue jays, cardinals, red-bellied woodpeckers, morning doves, house sparrows, song sparrows, robins, and Grackles. Five species that I didn't know were likely to be seen in the area are wood ducks, gadwalls, northern bobwhite quails, yellow-bellied cuckoos, and chimney swifts.
    • Kara
      Participant
      Chirps: 6
      During quarantine (and coincidently, spring migration), birding has been a welcome escape and a perfect pastime! My suburban house is outside Philadelphia and near some small forested areas. I have started a morning habit of drinking my coffee outside and logging birds observed within 20 min or so on eBird, using the Merlin app for any tough-to-identify birds. My friend also lent me her Kaufman's guide so I can practice using a field guide. On a typical morning I average about 13 types of birds - the usual backyard suspects - catbirds, house sparrows, robins, song sparrows, Carolina wrens, blue jays, cardinals, crows, and various woodpeckers (red-bellied most common). This morning I spent a little longer than usual, walking across the street to a field at an abandoned school. I saw a couple pairs of birds that through the Merlin app I was able to identify as Great crested flycatchers with their big round heads and light yellow bellies. They were flitting and flirting around the tops of the trees, must be breeding. Next I heard a peewee, whose song I never would have known without the Merlin app, now I hear it all the time! I followed the song and finally spotted it - it kept me company and sang to me for about 10 minutes! Then I was passing time with a few house finches when I saw another black and white bird I'd never seen before perched on a chain link fence. Thanks to the Merlin app I confirmed it was an Eastern kingbird by the white end of its tail. Finally, I was surprised to hear the "Peter Peter" and see a tufted titmouse singing in the branches right above my head. Honestly I can't think of a better way to spend my Sunday morning!
    • Catherine
      Participant
      Chirps: 17
      I have just--once again--watched the Cornell Sapsucker Woods live birdcam--love it! I is really helping me in the identification process--meaning that I'm more aware that there are *many* different-but-similar birds, woodpeckers for example. I see them quite a lot around my area (Island of Montreal), but always assumed they were flickers, Downy's or Hairy. The other day the birdcam had two woodpeckers that I realize I didn't know, and they turned out to be the red-bellied--and my newly bought current Bird Guide book (my original, 1964 edition of Roger Tory Peterson really needed renewal....) helped me decide that what I saw was a pair, and how the female and the male differ: the top of the head of the male is almost entirely red, but the female's red is narrower. Wonderful! The Sapsucker birdfeeders were also obviously recently refilled (I had noticed the birds were getting to the bare bottoms...), and so there were a lot of birds, including what I decided were juvenile starlings: one of the adults was obviously helping a little one in the feeding process.
    • Ann
      Participant
      Chirps: 16
      Activity 2 and 3 - Use Merlin’s “Most Likely” species feature to find out what birds you are likely to see locally today. Interesting to explore this. Using range maps or bar charts, find five birds that pass through your area that you didn’t know about. I'm looking for the Hooded Oriole more now; 2 friends of mine have them on their property.  One built an incredible next on the underside of a palm frond!  We do see the European startling - not my favorite bird as they are not native and seem to be bullies.  We have see the brown headed Cowbird - I see that we have 2 types of cowbirds; I had thought there was only 1 type. This hawk shows up in the spring - not seen him/her since it got hot 04290839 hawk
    • Ann
      Participant
      Chirps: 16
      Activity 2 and 3 - Use Merlin’s “Most Likely” species feature to find out what birds you are likely to see locally today. Interesting to explore this. Using range maps or bar charts, find five birds that pass through your area that you didn’t know about. I'm looking for the Hooded Oriole more now; 2 friends of mine have them on their property.  One built an incredible next on the underside of a palm frond!  We do see the European startling - not my favorite bird as they are not native and seem to be bullies.  We have see the brown headed Cowbird - I see that we have 2 types of cowbirds; I had thought there was only 1 type.
    • Ann
      Participant
      Chirps: 16
      Activity 1: I have 2 places I watch - both on our property.  We have a "bird feeding" area where we put some seeds on the ground, some seeds in a feeder, and hummingbird food in a hummingbird feeder.  We watch in primarily in the morning (only time we put the seeds out).  On the ground, we have mainly have morning doves, white wing doves (although they seem to prefer the feeder), ground doves and gambel quail (sometimes they use the hanging feeder).  Cactus Wren show up but seem to be more after the bugs and stuff on the trees.  Once in a while we get the Eurasian Collard Dove.  We also get a fair number of house finches, sparrows (black chin, house,  and I'm working on figuring out the rest), cardinals, albert's towhee, cactus wrens, and curve bill thrashers.  In addition to hummingbirds (mainly Ana's), the gila woodpecker and northern flicka use that feeder; some other birds sort of use the feeder - they seem to find the slop over from the woodpecker and flicka. The picture is from our "water hole" where we have a camera.  The picture shows a cardinal and one of bigger quail families (we have over a dozen families visiting the water - one group at a time).  Some quail families have 2 sets of parents.  Sometimes in the night photos, we see a screech owl.  Not at the water hole, but we also have great horned owls, burrowing owls 11010496 owl MFDC0181
    • Carol
      Participant
      Chirps: 12
      Activity 1 I found a park in my area that I often go to. On EBird, even though this is not a Hotspot, other people have listed similarly and I look at what they are seeing and know what to expect. I use Merlin app of likely birds to help me narrow down a bird I have seen. I have also talked to people in the park that I recognize from EBird lists.   Activity 2 I was at Oak Hammock in Manitoba, There were a lot of Shorebirds. I saw one and took a picture of one I was not sure of what was. By the likely shorebirds and my picture I identified a Dunlin a new bird for me 0B4A58690B4A5876  
    • Jo Anne
      Participant
      Chirps: 4
      Activity 1 - Cornell Feeder Watch Cam The first birds looked like Grackles to me. Mostly black with a iridescent bluish head and neck. Black bill and legs. But then some arrived with similar colors, dark head, speckles on side and top of tail, and  some grayish streaks. And yellow bill and legs. I heard a metallic sound and also a raspy sound. They were both robin size or larger. Using Merlin, the yellow beak helped identify some of them as a European Starling. The ones with the bluest heads and black bills and legs turned out to be the Common Grackle. Red wing blackbird - black bird, smaller than grackles, red and yellow bar on wing. One blackbird had more yellow than red on band except when it flew. I could hear the Red Wing song in the background. I guessed the next one was a Flicker. Red crown extending down back a little. black eye and bill. speckled black and white back, buff breast. Using Merlin, it turned out to be a Red-bellied Woodpecker. Mourning Dove.  Mostly gray-pinkish, black spots, buff breast-stomach. Merlin agreed with my assessment. Activity 2: Use Merlin’s “Most Likely” species. I found the bar graph to be helpful. Canada Goose This is easiest bird to see on my walk. We have lots of little ponds here. Robin - Very common. I hear it singing every morning and see it on my walks. Northern Cardinal. I’ve been learning the variations of its song using LarkWire. Chipping Sparrow.  I see this bird often, but have not been able to identify its song. Song Sparrow. I hear this bird on some of my walks, but have yet to see it. Tufted Titmouse. I hear this bird very often, but have yet to see it. Northern Mockingbird. I have heard and seen this bird occasionally on recent walks. Wood Thrush/Hermit Thrush? I hear what sounds to me exactly like the call of a hermit thrush, especially early morning or early evening. But it is not supposed to be where I am sheltering in Indiana. The call sounds much more like a Hermit Thrush than a wood thrush. I hear the Hermit Thrush most days at my home in Vermont. Mourning Dove. Saw and heard this morning.
    • Mary
      Participant
      Chirps: 8
      I watched the Cornell Feeder Cam for 15 minutes and saw the following birds:  Common Grackle, Mourning Dove, Red-winged Blackbird, Blue Jay, Red-bellied Woodpecker, Downy Woodpecker and Hairy Woodpecker.   I used the Cornell All About Birds site to help identify the 3 woodpeckers.  The activity we did in the Joy of Birdwatching to differentiate between the Downy and Hairy Woodpeckers by beak size was very helpful. I used Merlin to see what birds I would find in my local area and saw or heard the following birds: Eastern Phoebe, Carolina Wren, Bluebird, Crow, Cardinal and Robin.   I am participating in Nest Watch as we have three Eastern Phoebe nests on our house.  I cannot monitor two of them as they are in the gables of our two story house.  However, I have been able to monitor the nest on our back porch. I used the eBird bar graphs to see what birds are in our area.  There are several types of warblers that I did not know migrated through our area in the spring and fall.  I also did not realize that the painted bunting was here for a short time during migration.
    • Jamie
      Participant
      Chirps: 2
      I just looked at the Cornell Feeder Cam for maybe 10 minutes and I saw 5-6 different species. Mourning doves, European starlings, Crow, Downy woodpecker and Red bellied woodpecker. It was very cool! I'm amazed that they would all tolerate each other in such close proximity.
    • Zach
      Participant
      Chirps: 2
      I took a my bike down along the Tomahawk Creek greenway near my house in Leawood KS and I stopped at a few places to rest and look for birds.  The ones I am pretty sure I saw included American Robins (they are all over the place here), Great Northern Cardinal, Blue Jay, Common Grackle, Turkey Vulture (may have been a dark brown hawk - was soaring overhead couple hundred feet up), Great Blue Heron, and Canada Goose.  There were lots of Canada Geese - families of them with their young.  IMG-0340IMG-0346
    • Lara
      Participant
      Chirps: 7
      I watched FeederWatch for 15 minutes, and saw 8 different birds, and one cheeky squirrel. I saw: mourning dove, grackle, blue jay, red-winged blackbird, hairy (I think) woodpecker, European starling, cardinal, and red-bellied woodpecker. That was my first time seeing the red-bellied woodpecker, and I used my field guide to be sure what it was. I think I'm starting to get straight the woodpeckers I'm likely to see.  I need more practice distinguishing hairy and downy woodpeckers. The feeder in NY is helpful because it has similar birds to what I have here in Massachusetts.
      • Lara
        Participant
        Chirps: 7
        I used All About Birds to learn more about red-bellied woodpeckers, and also northern flickers. These are both birds I might be able to see in my own backyard, but haven't seen yet. I also read about great horned owls, because I'm pretty sure I saw one the other night. It was just a silhouette against the sky, really high up at the top of a tree. It was definitely the size and shape of an owl, and I could plainly see the two tufts with my binoculars. Almost every night after I get into bed I hear an owl, and listening to the calls of the great horned owl, that could be it. I'd like to learn how to go out at night and see the owl. Owls definitely have a special fascination, maybe because they are mostly nocturnal so sightings are more rare. I'm used to hearing owls only when I'm camping in Vermont, and really never seeing them. But it seems I must have one or more living near me!
      • Cathy
        Participant
        Chirps: 45

        @Lara Hi Lara.  I think I have a Great Horned Owl living near me too.  Although I'm in a small city, we back onto a very large park.  I hear the owl at night and it amazes me how loud it is.  I heard it as I was walking around yesterday evening.  I went on an owl prowl through a regional park many years ago, and all I remember was it was very hard to see anything - though we could hear several owls.  I hope that you get more chances to see your local owls.  Thanks for sharing.

    • Kathleen
      Participant
      Chirps: 12
      Activity 2: Use Merlin’s “Most Likely” species feature to find out what birds you are likely to see locally today. If you can, go out and try to find some of them. Be sure to listen to their call and song on Merlin. Maybe it’s a song you’ve heard before, but you didn’t know who made it! First I checked with Merlin to see how many birds I expected to see.  178!  I looked through and waterfowl, seabirds, wading-birds, chicken-like birds, shorebirds, owls & parrots, I was able to eliminate!  That left only songbirds, raptors, woodpeckers, and hummingbirds.  That's plenty! Because I am stroke disabled, and Covid-19 restricted, I looked only at the area around the house.  I started in the back, with the bird feeders and evergreens, tall and short.  It's Washington state and therefore it was raining...all day.  The first thing I saw was a Stellers Jay, picking around in the grass.  He didn't stay very long...he was alone.  The second thing I heard and saw, was the song of the Bewick's Wren, and sure enough, two came up on the patio and searched for nesting material!  One came hopping up to the door and peeked in with his bill full.  Then they flew away.  A bit later I finally saw a small Anna's Hummingbird come for a taste of our humming-juice.  He didn't stay long either, but two Black-Capped Chickadees came one at a time and flew quickly back to the trees to eat, while the other one flew up to get her portion.  Eventually they chased each other away, presumably in a courting chase.  I looked down from the feeders, and what did I see, but a Spotted [we call them Rufous-sided] Towhee gobbling up some of the seeds the small birds had dropped!  I raised my binoculars excitedly, and of course he flew off.  Before I went to the road side of the house, I was looking for some Dark-eyed Juncos which Merlin said were the only kind in the neighborhood.  I saw lots of Oregon Juncos, but no Dark-eyes.  I guess the Oregons are sub-species, but they sure aren't in our yard!  I had heard crows in the front yard all day, so I was eager to see if there were any kind but Common Crows. It seems the only kinds are common and a few Ravens on any one day.  I am trying to learn how to whistle a few of the songbirds' songs, and I've gotten the Junco's down pretty well, the crow's isn't a whistle it's throaty, but now I'm working on a few of the woodpeckers!  We'll see!