It’s very hard to not see birds around us. While having said that, every new person I meet tells me that they had never seen or heard a bird in the park that we just walked. But, in that instance we end up seeing 15 species of birds, hearing half of them singing their hearts out.
Looking for birds has been a favorite part time hobby of humans for millennia. Either it’s a casual bird watching during your hike in a park or a specific next level looking hard to find a specific bird for your county for the year or even for the month (maybe a week for some). Birding is birdwatching on cocaine 👀. And, there is a thin line between bird watching and Birding, however once you’re past the birding ‘event horizon there is no turning back.
Interestingly, birding isn’t an easy hobby to have. And, I’m not talking about acquiring hundreds of dollars worth of binoculars and camera equipment. It can be done with a cheap $45 binoculars from Amazon. The problem lies in the identification of the birds. It’s not an easy task to tell different birds apart. The easiest part of identifying a bird lies in the identification that it’s a “Bird”- that part is easy. And birding by ears is even harder, with this you can’t even tell if it’s a bird or not. Believe me, I’ve been fooled by squirrels a lot.
Even while ID’ing by eyes/visually it can be a pain in the head. Like I mentioned before, the easiest part is to be able to say that it’s a bird. But what bird is it? Well that’s the fun and the challenging part of birding.
As a beginner birder, we are excited to find new birds. Especially new birders these days who have varieties of apps to help them ID birds. Which makes things a lot easier. Can’t ID a bird? Use a step-by-step guide in Merlin and it will be able to tell you the – smaller than a sparrow, black and white striped face and a shiny golden patch on the head is a Golden-crowned kinglet. However, the challenging part is to actually get these visuals while birds are hopping around in trees and bushes for a split second.
I’m not a super experienced birder or even a good birder. But I love birding and have been doing it for a while. I’ve led more than a few birding groups and students of Ornithology on birding trips. One of the earlier mistakes that I have seen students and early birders make is that they look at the bird as a whole. This could be a confusing thing to say, “you do have to look at the bird to ID the bird. So how can you not look at the bird as a whole while birding? The point I am trying to make is, while looking for these birds, especially the LBJ’s (Little brown jobs) and the Warblers (Oh the Warblers), it’s going to be extremely challenging trying to figure out what the species is in a split second that you get to see them. In that instance, if you’re looking at the whole bird, you’re going to miss it. You’re probably just going to see a thing that looks like a bird and is probably green or olive or it might as well be brown and the light is affecting what you see. However, birds are made up of parts, and these parts are crucial in identifying them. Lores, Crowns, Eye-rings, Mantle, Scapulars, Wing bars, Tail size, Wing size. Those are the things you should start focusing on in order to get a better understanding of the birding. Birding by parts – That’s what I like to call it. Instead of looking at a bird as a whole and trying to figure out if it’s a chipping sparrow or a single sparrow, try to look for the streakings, look at the wing bars. Even during a split second if you get those fieldmarks, you’re going to at least be close to identifying the bird correctly. Interestingly this might seem like a silly suggestion, but this is what I have seen most early birders do including me. Nowadays, I take time to look at the species, study them. You can read all you want about birds in your office or your couch, but one thing that is going to make you a better birder is practice. Go out, find them, look for the fieldmarks, look for the habitat they are in. Observe their behaviors. As hard as it is to find the birds, it’s equally easy to find them if you use the habitat. You’re probably never going to find a Baird’s or a Nelson’s sparrow in your local forested park so eliminating those sparrows for a chipping or a Song sparrow will be easier in your local park. Whereas, if you’re in a grassland and see those sparrow looking birds, again look for the fieldmars, if it has a complete eye-ring, it’s probably a Vesper’s Sparrow.
And, never ignore a bird just because you think you know the bird. You never know when a ‘Brambling” is going to end up in a flock of House Sparrows. Why? Well, because birds can fly!
One thing I have learned from observing long time/experienced birders is that they are so familiar with their local species they can spot any odd bird out in a flock of 100’s of birds. How? Practice and know the details of all the local birds that are around. Never take a flock of sparrows for granted, never ignore them and go “Oh these are sparrows”. We’ve found a Eurasian tree sparrow in a flock of house sparrows and who knows what else is flocking around?
Know all of your regular occurring/local birds so that if there’s a weird one out, you can easily spot it. And, to do that, you do have to get to the basics of birding with field marks. Birding by parts!
Now, find that Brambling in a flock of house sparrows!