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Birding with the field guide

Editor’s note: In last month’s NFH, Kramer mentioned the following to assist with finding binoculars and field guides: The Wild Bird Center in Colorado Springs. “The best way to choose a good field guide is to contact an experienced birder, or go to a birding store and ask the advice of the owner, who will be an expert in the area of equipment.”By this time, with hope, everyone has his or her binoculars and a good field guide. The first thing that one should do is to become familiar with the field guide. Study it and become comfortable with where the different families of birds are located in the field guide.The following are familiar families of birds you should get to know:

  • Ducks (start by learning what the males look like, then, after gaining confidence with these, learn the females)
  • Hummingbirds
  • Jays (including crows and magpies)
  • Blackbirds
  • Chickadees and nuthatches
  • Thrushes (this includes robins and bluebirds)
Groups to learn after one has gained some confidence include the following:
  • Hawks
  • Woodpeckers
  • Swallows
  • Warblers (once again, start with males)
These are common birds and once comfortable with these, one should have few surprises until he starts birding beyond his backyard. Study the drawings in the front of the field guide that show the different parts of a bird and become familiar with the terms, as these will recur throughout the text.Any modern field guide will have illustrations or photos that should have arrows pointing to different parts of the bird. These show the markings or details on the bird, distinguishing it as a species from other birds.Here are a few basic identification tips. When looking at a bird one has not seen before, take notes in your field notebook. Memories are far from infallible, and the details of several different birds may become confused, setting one into a fever of excitement over having found a bird that isn’t in the field guide.Study the bird in question and look for features, such as eye rings, wingbars, (the field guide will help with these terms), striking feather patterns or colors, shape of bill, size or any other feature that may be distinctive. This is where a good pair of binoculars comes in handy. If the bird is flying, as is the case almost all the time with swallows and hawks, look at the wing shape. Is it broad and blunt, as in many hawks, or pointed and streamlined as in falcons and swallows?How does the bird being observed fly? Does it glide, or is it constantly beating its wings? Does it fly close to the ground, scuttling from bush to bush or does it soar high in the sky? When combined with careful study of the bird and its habitat, the notes that one takes should make it easy to identify almost any bird.Important, though not essential, is a birding journal or checklist in which one can record all the birds. The journal can be as simple as placing a checkmark next to the species in the guide, or using one of the birding software programs now on the market. This kind of a journal, especially if it includes accounts of one’s outings, can be a way of remembering when and where that special bird was seen.In the next issue, we will cover more on identification and birding sites in and around Colorado Springs. Happy Birding!

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