Thursday, January 24, 2008
Birding Tip: What Are You Seeing?
We recently took some friends birding who were very interested in birds and wanted to learn more. One of the first things we try to teach people is to describe what they see, BEFORE THEY NAME THE BIRD. The human temptation is to quickly plunk a name on a bird and often how "advanced" a birder is, is judged by how quickly he or she can identify a bird before anyone else has even raised their binoculars. Naming birds at the speed of light may be highly impressive, but it does not help beginner's build skills.
One of the biggest gifts Don and I try to give learning birders is an improvement in their observational skills and a sense of empowerment that they can learn birds on their own, even when Don and I are not with them.
So, for starters, we looked at birds and answered the question, what are you seeing, based on criteria such as:
- What size is the bird? Is it robin sized, crow sized, sparrow sized, etc.?
- What is it's posture, if it is sitting? Upright? horizontal across a branch? Upside down on a tree trunk?
- What is the shape of each feature of the bird? Does it have a long or short tail? A big or small head? Is the bill long, short, medium, down-curved, straight, conical, dagger-like, longer than the width of the side of the head, or shorter, etc., etc. Is it plump, slender-bodied, heavy-chested, elongated, bullet-shaped, etc.? Are the legs long, short, medium, thick, thin, etc.?
- How is the bird moving in flight? Flapping fast, slow, erratically, in regular bursts, undulating, straight, diving, etc. etc.? Are the wings crooked, slender, wide where they meet the body, rounded at the end, pointed and swept back, etc.?
Notice we haven't even gotten to color yet. We actually think it is best to try and first focus on the above items as they carry a great deal of information, often overlooked, about the bird and will help you sort out difficult species from one another.
Try answering these questions about the birds above. Don't worry about their names, we will tell you tomorrow. Building great observational skills will fast forward your birding and enhance your enjoyment of birds.
Photos © Lillian Stokes, 2008. All content of this website © Lillian and Don Stokes, 2008.