NEW WILMINGTON Pa. – Tweetspeak: Adventures in birding has been an educational journey. Before this class I did not realize how surrounded by birds we are on an average day. After studying them I will not be able to look at birds the same, or take a walk without referencing information from the class. In just three short months we were able to cover anything you could want to know about a bird. We discussed:
- The origin of birds and their evolution from dinosaurs
- How feathers are grown and what functions they serve
- The basic physics of flight that allow birds to fly
- What makes a bird a bird? Physiological characteristics distinct to birds
- Where and how birds migrate
- Reproduction and mating systems
- The development of eggs
- The different types of nests that a bird can build
- How birds raise their young
As you can see we were able to cover virtually every aspect of a bird’s life. By simply scanning over this list some interesting things pop out. For example, birds actually are dinosaurs! Flight is not a distinguishing characteristic of birds, but feathers are. Lastly, birds are able to fly half way across the world to the same exact part of the world at roughly the same time every year.
Learning this material was a major part of the class. The rest of the class was my favorite. We spent time learning how to identify the species of birds that are right in our own back yards. As I soon found out this is quite a refined skill. Thankfully with practice I was able catch on. The first step is to get a field guide that has all the species of birds in the region you’re in. The field guide we used was The Sibley Field Guide to Birds of North America. This book offers some tips for the beginning birder to help improve your identification abilities. The tips that I found most helpful were:
- Look at the bird for as long as possible before finding it in the field guide
- Browse the book at home to get familiar with its layout
- Recognize patterns in colors and behavior of the birds
- Practice seeing details
- Pay attention to seasons
It is important to look at the bird as long as possible before you try and find it in your field guide because you don’t know how long you will have to study the bird in front of you. Birds are active creatures and constantly on the move. By taking the time to study it you will have a better chance of seeing key identifying features. I failed to do the second bullet point. It took me quite a while to get familiar with my field guide and made identifying birds more difficult. Being familiar with the field guide makes your searches more time efficient. Recognizing patterns in color and behavior is a large part of identifying birds. Each species has their own distinct color patterns. If you can see these color patterns making a positive id will be easy. Some birds do look alike. For example, the Eastern Kingbird and the Eastern Phoebe share a strong resemblance. However, by learning details you can distinguish the two. Eastern Kingbirds have white on the tips of their tails, a characteristic that is unique to that species. Seasons also have a drastic effect on which birds you will see. This did not really occur to me until we started to see migratory birds in the field. Early in the class the weather was cold and birds were not migrating back yet. As the season changed the number of bids we saw multiplied and our list of sightings was diverse.
Size, shape and color patterns are essential in identifying birds but not the only way it can be done. We learned quickly that you cannot always get a visual on birds. How can you identify them? We focused on learning their songs. If you’re ever outdoors, take a moment to listen. Birds are always singing. The Cornell Lab Bird Academy tells us that birds sing to defend and impress. What his means is that when birds are singing they are letting other birds know that they have claimed their territory and to stay away. The other part of this is that birds are singing to attract a mate. It is thought that songs may signal the overall health of the singer.
I joke and say that this class has ruined peaceful walks on a sunny day for me. Now whenever I walk outside I hear birds louder than ever. I impress myself when I am able to identify birds simply by their sound, and if I cannot identify what bird it is I investigate farther. I can always draw on the lessons from this class to answer these questions, and I feel like these lessons will stick with me through the years.