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      Whatbird Forums Rules   01/08/17

      'Help Me Identify a Bird' rules: When posting a new thread, please: 1. Read the FAQ and forum rules before posting 2. Include the location in your Post when seeking ID 3. Include the date of the sighting 4. Provide a photo or detailed description of the bird Forum rules: By posting in the WhatBird forums you agree to the following board rules: 1. You will be tolerant and respectful of your fellow members 2. You will not spam 3. You will not post sexually explicit, vulgar or racist material 4. You will not advertise or sell products 5. You will not discuss illegal activities 6. You will keep topics of religion and politics to a bare minimum 7. You will not take advantage of chat to break any of the above rules. 8. Members will not discuss homosexuality nor make any comments about others' sexuality. Breaking any of these rules may result in a suspension or a permanent ban from the forums!! Furthermore, anyone who causes continuous dissent and disarray in the forums will be banned as seen fit by the forum moderators under the pretense of "trolling." Gallery photos: Regarding photos in the Whatbird gallery, please keep in mind that the copyright belongs to the person who took the photo. So please do not use any of the Gallery photos without requesting permission from the photographer. Forum Photos: If you use photos other than your own, please place a link to the referenced photo and do not post other photographer's work directly.
whip

A dichotomous key for bird groups?

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whip    1

Hello,

I'm new to birding and a relative gifted me a Sibley's Guide to N. American birds - a lovely gift. But I'm not sure how to observe a bird in the field and then find it in the book. The table of contents lists birds like gruiformes, avocets, murres, spoonbills, and many others that I am totally unfamiliar with, so I'm not sure what else to do at this point besides skim through the whole book each time I find a bird, maybe narrowing the search based on where I see the bird (shore vs inland and so on). Is there a key somewhere that would help me quickly figure out the family or order of the bird so I could narrow my search in the field guide?

 

Thanks,

Whip

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Aveschapines    2098

Welcome to WhatBird and to birding! Your relative did well; Sibley's is a great basic guide. Of course in time you'll have to have ALL of the guides ever published LOL!

I do have some suggestions for you. Read through your Sibleys (including the boring pages in the beginning and the summaries of the families LOL) and study the different groups of birds; try to see the similarities that make a thrush obviously a thrush, a sparrow a sparrow, etc. Some things to look for are bill size and shape, overall body shape and stance (does the bird stand tall? Keep its body almost horizontal? Perch with the tail downward? Perch with tail raised?), and behavior. Anything hovering and doing acrobatics while drinking nectar from flowers is probably a hummingbird; groups of birds flying in circles and swoops high above the ground are likely to be swallows or swifts; little brown guys on the ground with short thick bills are probably some kind of sparrow or relative (towhee, siskin, etc.) 

Expect your first IDs to take forever and drive you crazy; but try to do it on your own, or at least give it a good try before you post here to ask someone to make the ID for you. You'll learn SO much from those frustrating and even at times unsuccessful early ID attempts. When you do post here for help, feel free to ask people to point out what field marks or other characteristics led to the ID. With time posting and reading here you'll learn who the skilled, experienced birders are and who is happy to give detailed explanations to help you learn.

Another thing - read the ID threads on a regular basis. I've learned a ton from them! Like you I came to WhatBird as a brand-new birder, and I didn't know anyone else local who birded. Most people are happy to ID your "easy" or "trash" birds (trash birds are the ones seasoned birders don't get excited about seeing because they're very common and often invasive species that are a threat to local species). However, realize that one birder's trash bird is another birder's "lifer"!  A "lifer" is a bird you are seeing for the very first time, so it goes on your life list - a list most birders keep of all the species of wild birds they've seen in their lives. But read the threads, look at the pictures, try to guess what the bird is before scrolling down for the answer, and soon you'll find you're sometimes right :D Feel free to ask questions; you can say, for example, that you're a new birder and would like to learn, so can someone explain how they knew that was a phoebe and not a pewee, etc. Again, most people will be delighted to help you.

My final piece of advice: go birding, even in your own backyard. If possible, bird with other birders; I didn't have that opportunity until I'd been birding for almost a year, and it makes such a difference! Again, in your group, find the people who know what they are doing and don't mind explaining why that's a House Sparrow (trash bird) and ask questions. If you take pictures, study them later to try to confirm the ID yourself. So say you have a photo that you know is a Northern Flicker, for example; go to that page in your Sibley's and notice how the long, sturdy, pointed bill and bulky body shape suggest that it's some kind of woodpecker. Then notice the spots on the chest and belly, barring on the back and wings, and red or black markings on the face/nape that make it a Flicker as opposed to some other kind of woodpecker. You'll read in your Sibley that they are often found on the ground pecking at the dirt, looking for ants, so that will help you recognize your next Flicker. 

Sorry to be a little long-winded but I hope some of this helps. It will all get easier with experience. Meanwhile enjoy that fun phase in your birding career when every bird you see is a lifer!

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Bird Brain    4173

Welcome to Whatbird!!!

Aveschapines has given you some very good advice. Study and observe, don't get discouraged when you make a mistake, and don't be afraid to ask for help when needed. And, there is NO substitute for experience!! Watch closely, and you will pick up on ID marks and characteristics without realizing it. My current wife of 14 years had no birding experience when she met me. She actually didn't know a Robin from a Jay, or a Sparrow from a Quail. Over the years of birding with me she has learned to ID many birds, sometimes from their flight pattern, habitat, overall shape and size, etc., far surpassing what she ever thought she could learn. She is better than I am about IDing birds from their call alone (well, she can hear better than me, and I can see better than her, so we make a pretty good pair of birders together!!). 

I hope your interest grows, as birding is a very good, healthy hobby. For many people it becomes a life style!! Hope you have many happy years of birding!

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whip    1

That all seems helpful, thank you for the responses. In studying plants and mushrooms and tracking, we say it's all about getting in 'dirt time'.  In birding, I suppose it's all about getting in air time.

 

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Thunderbird    660

Again, welcome to Whatbird and the hobby!

Here's a little poster (also made by Sibley) that may help you identify the more common birds you see on a day to day basis. If you see something that looks anything remotely like one of the birds on the poster, you can look it up in the book and voila: you'll be in the right section for the species you actually saw! Of course, if you find yourself unable to identify a bird, or you see something totally different, you can always post on the forum and someone will be there to help within minutes.

 

6b0e751a7636b2a9094b84766e6b349d.jpg

NOTE: The poster misses a couple very common families like waterfowl and raptors, which you should be able to find just skimming through the pages.

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whip    1

Oh my gosh, that poster is so much better than a dichotomous key! Thank you very much. I found another poster online with more easily readable text that covers the whole country rather than just the west. I'm attaching it in case others find it useful.

birds of n america.jpg

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