How to identify birds • How to identify birds • Here is a general outline for how to identify birds and what to look for. • First, become familiar with the field guide you are using so that you know how it is organized, and where different kinds of birds are likely to be found. I strongly recommend the Kaufman Guide to North American Birds, especially for beginning/intermediate birders. This book, unlike other bird guides, is organized by the type of bird and bird colors and is very helpful for ID. (Other bird guides are organized taxonomically).
How to identify birds, cont. • Use a state checklist to narrow down your choices in the field guide. This will list all the birds that have been found in the state. These are organized taxonomically (by bird family) so you will also need to know what general kind of bird you are looking at. The Kansas Ornithological Society has a checklist of birds you can print out at: http://www.ksbirds.org/kos/kos_pubs.html • Be familiar with the general types of birds out there: • Swimmers—ducks and duck-like birds • Aerialists—gulls and gull-like birds • Long-legged waders—herons, cranes, etc. • Smaller waders—shorebirds • Fowl-like birds—quail, prairie chickens, etc. • Birds of prey—hawks, eagles, owls • Nonpasserine land birds • Passerine (perching) birds
How to identify birds, cont. • When you see an unknown bird, first compare its size to something you do know, like is it the size of a robin? A sparrow? A pigeon? A hawk? Note that in field guides, they measure a birds size from the tip of the beak to the tip of the tail, so it may ‘sound’ larger than what you are looking at. Comparing it to a known bird is more reliable and trying to judge length in inches. • What is the birds body shape? Is it plump, thin, cigar-shaped, round, stream-lined? • What shape are the wings? Are they long and pointed, rounded, thick/deep? • What shape is the bill? Is it fine and pointed, thick, hook-tipped? Is it as long as the head or shorter or longer?
How to identify birds, cont. • What shape is the tail? Is it forked, rounded, squared-off, notched, pointed? • How does the bird behave? Does it move around a lot? Does it sit still? Does it bob and dip when it walks? Does it run? Does it bob it’s tail? Does it fly out from a branch and then return again? • Does it climb trees? If so, does it climb up or down the trunks? • How does it fly? Does it dip up and down, fly in a straight line, glide and soar, hover? • Does it swim? If so, does it sit low in the water or can you see most of its body? Does it dive completely under or does it upend with only the head under water? • Does it wade? If so, is it large like a heron or small like a sandpiper? If the latter, does it probe the mud or pick at things? Does it teeter or bob?
How to identify birds, cont. • What are its field marks? What colors are on it and in what pattern? • Tail patterns: does it have white patches on the outer tail feathers or on the corners, or none at all? Does it have a band near or at the end of the tail? • Rump patches: does it have a different color where the tail meets the back? • Eye stripes and eye rings: does it have a different color above, below or through the eye? Does it have a ring around it’s eye? Does it have a ‘mustache’ stripe? • Wing bars: do the wings have light stripes across them or not? • Wing patterns: very important on ducks and shorebirds. Are they solid color or have a stripe or contrasting black tips? • Note that colors can sometimes be deceiving in different light.
How to identify birds, cont. • Bird topography: what the parts of the body and kinds of feathers are called. This vocabulary is often used in field guides. See this link: • http://www.birds.cornell.edu/schoolyard/all_about_birds/bird_id/bird_topography.html
Resources for learning more • Birds have both songs and calls. • Songs are what birds sing during courtship and territory defense, usually before and after their mating season, but typically not all year long. • Calls are the other sounds birds make, in the “off-season”, during winter and before territory/mating season. They are usually shorter “chip” notes and such. • To hear and practice bird songs and calls, try: http://www.mbr-pwrc.usgs.gov/id/songlist.html • To get a checklist of the Birds in Kansas, go to: http://www.ksbirds.org/kos/koslist10.pdf
Some Major Groups of Winter Birds in Kansas • Birds of Prey • Medium-sized Land Birds • Typical Songbirds • Tanagers, Blackbirds • Sparrows • Finches, Buntings
Sharp-shinned Hawk • Family: Accipitridae, the hawks, kites, and eagles • More common in winter than the summer, but are most common throughout the state in April and October • May be found wherever there are trees and small birds, therefore often hunts at bird feeders
Bald Eagle • Family: Accipitridae, the hawks, kites, and eagles • Juveniles are dark brown, with small white patches. Takes four to five years to have white head and tail. • Typically found along rivers and near reservoirs. • Most often seen in winter in NE Kansas, but a few breeding pairs can be found at some of the larger reservoirs. • Primarily eat dead/injured waterfowl, fish, and carrion.
Red-tailed Hawk (lower bird) Red-tailed Hawk scavenges on White-tailed Deer carcass (Video compliments of Ken Highfill)
Red-tailed Hawk • Family: Accipitridae, the hawks, kites, and eagles • Most common and widespread large hawk throughout the eastern half of the state. • Uses utility poles along highways and roads as hunting perches. • Feeds on small mammals and reptiles along roadsides, but also scavenge roadkills
Eastern Screech-Owl Taxidermy mount from KU Natural History Museum
Eastern Screech-Owl Taxidermy mount from KU Natural History Museum
Eastern Screech-Owl • Family: Strigidae, the Typical Owls • Year-round resident • Our smallest residential owl (there are smaller migratory owls though) • Only about 8 ½ inches high! • Call is a descending whinny and/or a monotone trill.
Great Horned Owl Taxidermy mount from KU Natural History Museum
Great Horned Owl • Family: Strigidae, the Typical Owls • Year-round resident • Our largest owl in Kansas • Our earliest breeding bird in Kansas—calls for mates during November and December, and is usually incubating eggs in January. • Call sounds like: “Whose awake? Me, too”
Barn Owl Taxidermy mount from KU Natural History Museum
Barn Owl • Family: Tytonidae, the Barn Owls • Common, permanent resident in eastern Kansas. • Occur frequently in suburban areas, parks, and cemeteries but are more often heard than seen. • Lays eggs from mid-March to mid-May. • Eats insects and other arthropods in summer; small mammals, chiefly mice, and small birds are eaten in winter.
Barred Owl • Family: Strigidae, the Typical Owls • Smaller than Great Horned Owl, but chunky without ear-tufts • Much more likely than other owls to be heard during daytime. • Common in woods, river bottoms and wetlands. • Call sounds like, “Who cooks for you? Who cooks for you all…?”
American Kestrel • Family: Falconidae, the falcons • Smallest falcon species • Hunts grasshoppers in summer and small rodents in winter (typically). • Can wind-hover—stays in one place while hovering over a field • Can see infrared urine trails in the grass left by mice.
Downy Woodpecker • Family: Picidae, the woodpeckers • Smallest woodpecker in Kansas • Males have red crown patch. Females don’t have any red on head. • Eats sunflower seeds from feeders, but prefers suet from suet feeders. • Shy birds, often hide on opposite side of tree trunk • Use their tail as a brace when they climb up a tree. • In winter can be found in mixed flocks of chickadees, kinglets and titmice.
Red-bellied Woodpecker • Family: Picidae, the woodpeckers • About the size of a blue jay. • Readily eats suet from a suet feeder and also likes orange halves. • Females have red on the back of head and nape of neck, but not on top of head or forehead, like the males do.
Northern Flicker • Family: Picidae, the woodpeckers • Common year-round • Found in open woodland, parks and areas with shorter grass. • Can be seen foraging on the ground. • Generally the “yellow-shafted” race is found here.
Mourning Dove • Family: Columbidae, the pigeons and doves • Mates for life • Resident in Kansas year-round. • Mostly feeds on ground, but will sit on a platform feeder also. • Eats sunflower seed, corn, grains. • There is a hunting season on this bird.
Tufted Titmouse • Family: Paridae, the chickadees and titmice • Size of a chickadee • Often associates with chickadees • Year-round resident • If you have a good wooded habitat, they will come to feeders for seed.
Red-breasted Nuthatch • Family: Sittidae, the nuthatches • Occurs mainly in winter, in areas with extensive conifers (pine trees) • Found most winters in appropriate habitat • Very inquisitive and can easily be lured into a couple of feet of the observer. • Prefers sunflower seeds and shelled peanuts at feeders.
White-breasted Nuthatch • Family: Sittidae, the nuthatches • Present all year, numbers increase in winter from northern birds moving down here. • Climbs up and down and around tree trunks and limbs. Moves down tree head first (most birds do not). • Very vocal. • Readily comes to feeders, especially suet, also eats insects.