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  Getting Started

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Learning to identify the birds at your feeder or on your first field trips can be challenging and fun. Some birds will be harder to identify than others. With experience, however, you will soon be able to start identifying birds like a pro!

Here are a few tips that can help you get started.

1. Field Guide:
You will need to acquire a good field guide for the birds in your area. Visit the "
field guides" section for a rundown on some of the better guides. The books and tape shown later will also support your initial efforts.

2. Size
Start by noticing the size of the bird. You will quickly be able to identify a few common species such as a blue jay, cardinal or even a house sparrow. When you see a new bird, compare its size to a known species. Is it smaller or larger than a chickadee, for example? If other birds are nearby you can use a direct size comparison to narrow down the options.

Field guides will normally show the size of the bird, measured from the tip of the bill to the tip of the tail. Knowing the size is a good first step in trying to identify the bird.

3. Color
Color is one of the first things you will notice. Pay particular attention to the following:
a. Face color and pattern. Watch for eye rings (a thin line of white feathers around the eye) or lines through or above the eye.
b. Color of throat, chest and belly.
c. Color of back
d. Color of wings. Notice if the wings are a solid color or have white or colored bars.
e. Tail color.

4. Bills
The bill size and shape can help determine the general family, such as ducks or finches. Does it have a small, thin bill (like a warbler) or a straight, pointed bill (like a woodpecker)?

5. Legs and feet
The legs and feet often reflect the bird's favored habitat. Flat like a duck, long and thin like an egret, or adapted for climbing up the side of a tree like a woodpecker.

Study the bird before looking in the field guide. Make notes of the points listed above. The bird may be in view for only short time but your guide book is not going anywhere.

After developing a tentative identification by reviewing your filed guide, keep the following thoughts in mind.

1. Range
Check the range map in your guide. If you're in Florida and the bird you have found in the book is only found on the west coast then you need to consider another species.

2. Time of Year
Most of the field guides will have a range map that indicates if the bird is a winter resident, summer resident, permanent resident or migrant. Make sure the bird you have identified lives in your area the correct time of year.

3. Local Check List
To help narrow the possibilities even further, obtain a regional, local, or state check list. A check list is a list of the birds found in a particular area. It usually indicates the time of year the birds are present and their relative abundance. Nearby state parks or wildlife refuges, local Audubon Societies or wild bird gift ships are good places to look for a local check list.

Further information:

The following resources will also be helpful in helping you learn to identify the birds you see.

An Identification Guide to Backyard Birds ($3.95) published by Bird Watcher's Digest; features pictures of 86 different species and is an excellent resource for beginners. Order form Birdzilla.

Garden Birds of America ($29.50) by George H. Harrison. Provides an introduction to "gardening for birds", feeding tips, bird house specifications and information and pictures covering 60 different species. This is more of a picture book with good general information than a bird identification guide. However, the striking pictures of the various species will leave no doubt in your mind if one of them shows up in your yard. Order form Birdzilla.

How to Begin Birdwatching ($19.95) by Don and Lillian Stokes is a 50 minute tape that features some beautiful video, provides tips to beginning birders, and answers many of the more common questions people have about birds. Order from Birdzilla.



Bird Watching For Dummies ($19.95) by Bill Thompson, III - The famous "dummies" series brought to bird watching. Contains lots of good information on most aspects of bird watching. Order from Birdzilla.


The National Bird-Feeding Society publishes a bi-monthly bulletin that provides tips on bird feeding and identification.

Consider subscribing to one of the national wild bird magazines, Bird Watcher's Digest, Wild Bird or Birder's World. All provide good information and Bird Watcher's Digest also publishes Backyard Bird News.

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