THREE (3) BASIC STEPS & (7) QUESTIONS FOR BEGINNERS, TO HELP YOU IDENTIFY YOUR BIRD CORRECTLY.
When you see unfamiliar birds in your yard how do you go about identifying them?
STEP #1) Use Your Binoculars Correctly
Using binoculars and using them correctly is essential. Even within 10 yards birds may be difficult to identify. Key I.D. features may be missed with the naked eye. Binoculars are a tool (of your trade), so the more you practice with them the better you will be.
Immediately bringing the binoculars to your eyes, then looking for the bird is a common mistake. The magnification and field of view can easily disorient you to your surroundings. While your eyes are locked on the bird raise the binoculars to your eyes and then focus on the bird. This method will immediately improve your binocular skills.
Also, check to make sure the binoculars are fitted to the distance between your eyes to avoid the dark areas that may appear. All too often, people will not get the most out of their binoculars because they haven’t adjusted the diopter, making the image always a little blurry.
Every decent binocular, will have a diopter which can be found, typically, on the right ocular, or eyepiece. By following these two steps you can successfully “balance” the binoculars to your eyes.
STEP #2) SPEND TIME WATCHING YOUR BIRD
Don't be quick to take your eyes off your bird, to look at your field guide. Instead of looking at the bird briefly then quickly opening your field guide, spend more time observing your bird. While staring at your bird, ask yourself a series of questions. After you feel confident that you have successfully answered these questions, refer to your field book for help in identifying your bird.
When you first get started watching birds at home, keep your binoculars next to a pad of paper and a pen. You'll want to jot down the answers to a few questions, to help you remember a few identifying characteristics of your bird. After the bird has moved on is when you will want to open your field guide and look at your notes. Try to narrow down your search by answering the following questions.
QUESTION #1) WHAT IS THE SIZE OF MY BIRD?
Ask yourself what size is your bird? Is my bird small, medium or large? If I were to look at a silhouette of my bird, what features stand out? Is it small & tiny? Is it large and bulky? Is there a crest? How long is the tail? Are the legs long or short?
QUESTION #2) WHAT MAIN COLORS ARE IN MY BIRD?
Try to identify (3) main colors that your bird has in it. Note primary colors and their respective location. Patterns might include vertical or horizontal stripes, streaks, or a patch. Some birds will have specific colors in certain areas of their body.
QUESTION #3) WHAT COLOR IS MY BIRDS EYES?
Different species of birds, will have different colors for the eyes. This is a useful notation, when trying to identify your bird.
QUESTION #4) WHAT KIND OF FEET DOES MY BIRD HAVE?
Different species of birds, will have different types of feet. This is a useful notation, when trying to identify your bird.
QUESTION #5) WHAT KIND OF BEAK DOES MY BIRD HAVE?
Different species of birds, will have different kinds of beaks. You can often tell what a bird eats, by looking at the beak. This is a useful notation, when trying to identify your bird.
QUESTION #6) WHAT IS MY BIRD'S BEHAVIOR?
Behavior is often overlooked but it's also very important. Ask yourself what is my bird doing? Is my bird eating at a feeder, hopping along the ground, perched on telephone wires, flying in the open, or trying to conceal itself in a hedge? Is my bird flying in a group or is my bird flying alone? What is my bird trying to eat? Berries from a tree, insects from a bush, bugs off the ground, worms from plants, seeds from a feeder, or fruit from a tree?
QUESTION #7) WHAT IS MY BIRD'S HABITAT?
You should already know your habitat (it's your backyard and/or neighborhood). But it's important to note, because habitat will help you identify your bird. So ask yourself, is my yard wooded, is it coastal, does it border along broadleaf forested areas, is it located along side a busy road with ditches, are their parks nearby, swamps, marshes or shrimp farms? Does your yard have alot of diciduous trees, mangroves, lakes, ponds or streams? Is your yard located in a suburban area or the city? Keying in on the habitat of your yard, can possibly verify or deny certain species. For example, you’re not likely going to see a Great Blue Heron or a Pelican in a densely wooded area.
After you have firmly answered all these questions in your mind, go to your field book. By now your bird may have probably flown away, look for birds in your book that match the answers to your questions. There are many points to consider, when properly identifying a bird. As your experience and knowledge grow, this process will become second nature to you. Experienced birdwatchers can identify many species from just a quick look, by using these basic steps to visual identification.
STEP #3) CHECK YOUR FIELD GUIDE FOR HELP
It's important to get a good field guide for your area. This will help you identify the birds found in your immediate vicinity. A good field guide, will typically have pictures and information about birds broken down by habitats or species. Spend some time getting acquainted with your book, so that you know where to go for information quickly.
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