Sunday, March 9, 2014

Traits to look for when identifying birds on a day hike

For many children, spotting and watching birds – especially raptors, those that are courting, and rare species – is a great element of a day hike. Besides being entertaining, birdwatching offers many opportunities for learning while ensuring a memorable rest break.

Except for experienced birdwatchers, however, identifying the array of birds you see on a hike will be difficult. Because the time you have to observe a bird often is flitting is best, flipping through a birding field guide won’t be useful. Instead, jot down notes about the bird’s various traits or sketch its appearance so you later can look it up in a field guide.

When taking those notes or drawing the bird, look for the following traits, which will make identifying the bird easier in a field guide:
g Vocalizations – Almost every bird species sings a unique song or makes a unique sound. Often recordings of their vocalizations are available online.
g Size – Estimate in inches how tall and how long (from head to tail) the bird is.
g Shape – Note a general class that the bird appears to fit in. For example, is it shaped like a songbird, a pigeon, a turkey or a raptor?
g Beak/bill – Often all that sets apart one bird species from another is the length and shape of its beak or bill. That’s because this is a vital body part for eating a specific food that the bird species has adapted to.
g Facial markings – Often birds have stripes or special colorations on their face. Others have head feathers.
g Wing markings – List if patches or stripes appear on the bird’s wing as well as its coloring.
g Tail – The shape and length of a bird’s tail feathers often are specific to a species.
g Legs – Bird legs come in different lengths and colors. If possible, also note the number of toes and the direction they point.
g Food – If the bird is eating, try to determine what it’s dining on. Some birds eat only a few specific foods.

If you’re able to list or draw a number of these features, identifying the bird in a field guide once you return from your hike should be easy. It will make a great after hike activity for children.

Find out about trail guidebooks available in the Hittin’ the Trail series.