The best way to become proficient at telling one bird species from another, the male from the female, and the immature from the adult, is to spend time watching birds. It needs to be daily or several times a week in order to achieve any mastery. Along with that, having bird books and field guides available makes the guessing game so much easier. Although we have blundered a few species, we have learned to identify some of the most basic and exotic birds in our area. When we lived out in the country of south Florida, we saw many water birds and cranes: sand hill cranes, roseate spoonbill, blue heron, among others. And the only way we have learned is by looking out the window, observing the field marks, and running to find the name under the picture in the book.
In order to know which birds are found in your area, you can call or visit the local bird society, zoo, aviary or club, veterinarian specializing in birds, SPCA (Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals), ornithologists or the library. Bird sanctuaries might have a local bird list you could copy or buy. Once you have a roster in hand, your chances of correctly identifying a bird increase. You will be able to know with some certainty whether Arctic terns really do live in the desert of Arizona.
We have some friends who love birds. They raise many types, and can tell you amazing facts about the objects of their hobby. Bird habits, habitats, beaks, feet ... all take on new names in the presence of an ornithologist, professional or amateur. As with all studies, the vernacular is understood by those in the know. So, if you plan on hanging out with some "bird people," study the listed vocabulary words, so you can follow the conversation, and perhaps nod in general understanding:
Field marks: a natural mark on a bird used to aid in identifying species. Birders usually look for marks on the bird’s tail, wings, breast, head, or near the eye.
Field guide: a book of bird identification.
Habitat: a particular area where one lives (example: swamp, bushes, trees)
Behavior: walking, flying, or perching peculiar to specific species. The take-off or landing of a bird can help you identify it. Other characteristics to watch for: the way it bobs its tail up and down; if it walks down a tree upside down; or whether it hops, runs strolls; in flight, if it swoops and dips or flies straight.
Preening: the act of a bird cleaning its feathers by pulling each one through its beak. Also to spread oil from its preen gland (near its rump) over its feathers (to make them waterproof).
Brooding: sitting on eggs or baby birds to keep them warm.
Beginning "birders" memorize the size and shape of the robin. Measuring about ten inches long, it is of medium length and size for a bird. Many times a bird's size is gauged by comparing it to a robin, either larger or smaller than. Also, it is usually the first bird to return in the spring after the winter cold. So it is a very common sight. Sparrows and crows round out the smaller and larger sized bird standard, respectively.
Reading books about birds is wonderful. It prepares the novice while imparting more knowledge to the educated. Field guides are arranged to be the easiest to use and the most helpful when out in the field.
We can grab our field guide and go outside our own doors, or to the park, lake, zoo or bird sanctuary. Each one of these places will attract certain species and types of birds. Lakes will draw a variety of water birds such as ducks, geese, and swans. Depending on where you go and what birds you will encounter, some safe, edible offerings would include bread, wild bird seed, sunflower seeds and fruit.
Why not go on birding excursions? Studying and observing birds in their natural habitats gives you a better understanding and recognition of birds and their anatomically-induced behavior. Watching waterfowl preen before and after a dip in the pond helps you appreciate their diligent straightening. You may see anhingas holding out their wings to dry because they don’t have preening glands, and therefore produce no oil with which to cover and water-proof their feathers.
There's nothing like being with an expert, to learn and catch the excitement of his expertise. Bird-watchers can share from their abundance of knowledge, the practical hints on which birds can be found where at a particular time of the year. They can point out bird hiding places, explain a bird call or song, help you identify the owner of the warble, and point out details of proof that birds are in the area, whether it be in the form of pellets, evidence of feeding signs, or simply fallen feathers.
When preparing to go birding, remember to wear comfortable clothes according to the weather. Nothing that swishes when you walk or move, but do wear muted or camouflage colors to harmonize with the surroundings do well. Pack the rest of this equipment according to need:
warm coat or raincoat
backpack or bag to carry paraphernalia
Closer to Home
To attract birds to your home, you can do several things. Setting up bird baths will draw many birds who love to bathe and play in the water. It will also entice those birds needing a drink. Preparing birdfeeders will lure birds, also. An interesting note is that specific species of birds like particular types of food. So, the type of feeder and your choice of food will determine who shows up in your window theater. Remember to feed according to the birds indigenous to your area.
Another option is to buy or build birdhouses. These will insure that birds return day after day. It makes birdwatching that much closer and easier. Rather than traipsing through woods, one can sit in an easy chair and, with the aid of binoculars, view the goings-on of the aves on the other side of the pane.
Mark & Kym Wright have homeschooled for 20+ years and teach 5 of their 8 children near Atlanta, Georgia. Kym pens the Learn & Do unit studies and wrote the Bird Unit Study which helps you in a more detailed study of birds. Visit her website at: www.Learn-and-Do.com Published in The Mother’s Heart magazine, a premium online publication for mothers with hearts in their homes. Visit www.The-Mothers-Heart.com for more information.
Photo Credit: ©Unsplash/Diane Helentjaris