Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Advantages of Backyard Bird Feeding Part 2 - Identification

American Robin - (John Beetham)
Most people can identify a few species of birds, a Bald Eagle, a Mallard and perhaps an American Robin. Chances are you don't remember learning these species and you can probably identify them very quickly after you see one.

You can identify these species so easily because you are very familiar with the white head of the Bald Eagle, the green iridescence of the Mallard or the rusty orange breast of the American Robin. Being so familiar with the birds around you all the time is one of the advantages of having bird feeders.

The more comfortable you can get with common species, with the changes in appearance they experience throughout the year, what their babies look like, what they look like when their molting the better prepared you'll be to recognize strange things.

Molting Juvenile Cardinal
(Nicole Miller)
Until you watch the Northern Cardinals day in and day out you probably won't notice the young ones don't have orange bills and when the young males are growing into their adult colors they almost look like they are tie-dyed.

You'll miss the goldfinches changing from their drab winter plumage into their bright summer feathers. Knowing what all these species look like throughout the year helps you identify things quickly and helps picking up on strange things even faster.

If you're used to always seeing House Finches with their red and orange washes on their face covering your feeders and one day you notice one of them is more washed in purple you've probably discovered a new species for your feeder, the Purple Finch. If you aren't paying attention they are easy to miss, but the beautiful raspberry purple color of the Purple Finch is worth the extra effort.

By getting familiar with the sparrows coming to your feeder you'll be better prepared for identifying them and other species when you go out birding. Sparrows can be really tough, they tend to move a lot and don't always give you the best views. Watching them at a feeder is by far the best way to learn how to quickly ID them, its hard to get good looks at them any other way. The faster you can identify the ones you already know the better off you'll be. Whether you become familiar with just the common House Sparrow or if you also have Song Sparrows or Chipping Sparrows at your feeder each one is unique.

Many species of birds are only around seasonally, and paying close attention to the birds at your feeder can help you mark the passing of the seasons. Dark-eyed Juncos are called 'snowbirds' in many places because they show up just before winter and then leave at the first signs of spring. There are dozens of different species that might show up just for the summer, but juncos are snow birds, and their arrival has always been special to me, a bright spot after all the warblers have headed south.

If you like documenting the changing of the seasons try keeping a note book by the window where you see your feeders. Keeping track of when things arrive and depart each year is a great habit to get into and this kind of note taking is really valuable for when you see something strange and you want to be able to document it, either for yourself or to share that record with others.

Watching birds at your feeder can be extremely rewarding and help you better understand your local environment and be better prepared for any future birding adventures. So go fill up the feeders and keep a close eye on who shows ups!

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