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Who Is That Bird in the Bush? Top Tips for Birding

Posted by at 12:51 PM | Permalink | Comments (2)


Who Is That Bird in the Bush? Top Tips for Birding by Scott VanValenburgWhether you are new to birdwatching or a veteran field observer, let’s focus (pun intended) on some simple tips that will help people identify the birds they see. I hope those who have struggled to identify that “brown bird on the feeder” will share any insight that they’ve gained over the years.

First, carefully study the birds you see every day; it’s good practice. You’ll then find it easier to identify other species you encounter. Check out size, beak shape, and how birds walk, fly, perch, and swim. What habitat are they in?

Choose a few birds that you can use as “yardsticks,” and measure all others to your standard. The American robin is a great bird to use as a standard for size; you can ask whether any new bird you see is larger or smaller than a robin.

Get a field guide at the PETA Mall and note how bird species are grouped with others who share similar feeding practices, habitats, and behavior. Range maps will help narrow your search by noting which species appear in your area.

Grab your binoculars. You can get a low-priced pair that provides excellent viewing. Make sure you learn how to focus the binoculars for your eyes, particularly if you are sharing. Once you have acquired them, you can begin practicing with your binoculars by watching neighborhood birds. First, locate a bird with your eyes, then raise the binoculars to your eyes without moving your head. The bird should now be in your field of view. If that rock pigeon on the wire is about to fly down to the ground, focus on the bird on the wire and try to follow her down to the ground; if you lose her in flight, drop the binoculars, spot her with your eyes, and raise the binoculars to your eyes again. This technique is very helpful when it comes to popcorn-motion birds such as the beautiful warblers.

Look at the bird first and keep firm mental notes; the field guide will still be there long after the bird has moved out of view. Is there a pattern of colors on the breast, tail, or wings? Streaks or circles around the eye? What’s that beak look like? How does the bird hold her tail?

Once you master the basics, keep the following general tips in mind:

  • Keep a list; note when and where you saw birds.
  • Learn birds’ sounds and appearance with a CD or DVD or hand-held player. Don’t use that portable device to attract birds!
  • In keeping with PETA’s mission, promote respect for the birds in the field. Don’t harass them by approaching too close.
  • You can enjoy the birds while advocating for other animals. Go on a bird walk with a local bird club, and take along vegan snacks to share!

Anybody else have tips to help either new birders or experienced birders who want to improve their skills?

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    Bill says...

    September 26th, 2009, 9:40 pm

    I’m a long time birdwatcher, vegan, and animal rights activist. Most birders I meet are unaware how meat contributes to the decline of bird species. Neotropical migratory songbirds (warblers, vireos, thrushes, etc.) are among the most beautiful birds out there but few people apart from birders are aware they exist. Tropical rainforest deforestation for beef is a major cause of their decline. So being a vegan birder it gives me an opportunity to educate my fellow birders.

    Birdwatching is also a great way to connect with nature. There are so many species, each different, each having their own purposes and needs. These are societies other than our own. Observing them and being aware of their needs opens up whole new perspectives. It’s also a lot of fun. It seems hard at first to identify the hundreds of species but with time they become like old friends.

    Canaduck says...

    December 7th, 2009, 9:18 pm

    Great article, and great post, Bill. I too am a vegan and a birdwatcher, and I am very bothered by the frequent hypocrisy in the field. Many birdwatchers claim to love nature and animals and yet have no concern for the consequences of their own choices.

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