Sunday, June 2, 2013

Some Tips on Bird Identification

You may be able to identify a bird even if you do not have any bird books. The internet is a wealth of information on just about any bird you could see. What are some of the details you should note when you see a bird you don't recognize? Two of the biggest, of course, are it's size and color. Behavior may also be a clue. Was it catching bugs on the ground or was it high up in a tree? Was it kicking leaves on the floor of the woods or was it flicking it's tail nervously? Behavior can be a big clue.

With this little bird, some of the clues came from it's behavior and some from details on it's body. The photos were taken in October when many birds are migrating and it was sitting in a dogwood tree which had ripe berries on it. (In fact, robins stripped the tree within a couple of days of hundreds of berries.)

My initial thought was that it was a species of warbler because of it's small size and bill shape (more clues). If you can make some quick notes before you forget, you can note details about different parts of the bird. For example on this bird, I noticed the eye ring, the lack of eye stripe and the streaked (versus unstreaked) breast.

Other views of the bird gave me yet more clues. The yellow rump was a big one and the marginated primary and secondary feathers on the wings were others. All of your clues will help you exclude some species and narrow your search.

It is barely noticeable in the first two photos, but there is a patch of yellow in the shoulder area which can be seen better in this image. White patches on the underside of the tail are also seen here, but in no other image. One last detail to consider is a bird's normal range. While birds are found in areas in which they are not normally seen, it is much more likely that if a bird is not normally found in your area, you have the wrong bird.

With the information I had noted about this particular bird, I determined that it is an immature Yellow-rumped Warbler, a bird found throughout North America that is able to winter further north than almost any other warbler because it can survive by eating berries when insects are unavailable.

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