Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Begin To Bird

Spend time outdoors and eventually you'll discover the presence of birds trickling into your conscience. One day, working in the garden, you notice a turkey vulture shadow pass over the ground in front of you. While walking the dog, you hear the squawking of a scrub jay from a nearby tree. After washing the car, you see a house finch stealing a bath in a puddle you've created. You may not recognize these birds by name, but you notice them. Once you notice the birds in your surroundings, you have taken the first step in becoming a bird watcher.

People enjoy birds in different ways. Simply noticing and observing bird activity satisfies some. Others delight in watching birds eat from a feeder in the yard. When you are ready to put a name with the bird, a field guide, binoculars and careful observation are indispensable.

To start out, try the library for a field guide, or purchase the thinnest and most geographic-specific book you can find. These are likely to cover the birds that are most common in your area. Once you have mastered these, it is much easier to move on to a broader variety of the less common, but still present, birds where you live.

Those birds around your home make the best subjects for your study because those will be the ones you will have most opportunity to watch. Learn to observe them carefully and you can take those observation skills anywhere in the world.

Begin your observations with what is familiar. When you see a bird that you don't recognize, compare it with something you do know. Is it bigger or smaller than a robin? Can you pick out and note the location of any colors? Is it gliding overhead, perched in a tree, hovering over a field or hopping on the ground? Observe characteristics such as size, color, body shape, shape of the bill, stance, feeding and habits. All observations provide clues to identification.

In addition to bird “watching,” listening can be useful in identification, especially when the bird is not readily observable. Some people find sound identification easier than sight recognition, but each has its place in finally deciding that you have correctly identified the bird.

Patience will be your friend. The number of different birds may surprise you and they have an unkind habit of flying away just when you raise your binoculars. After identification, you may find an interest in studying habits, food, mating and other matters ornithological. After all, (ahem) the sky is the limit!

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