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Birds to look for when winter winds kick up

Across much of the world, winter is a season for studying waterbirds, and if you have access to a large body of water (ocean, large lake, or river), then it’s worth looking for waterbirds during storms. This has the potential for some of the most exciting birding. Birds sense the lower pressure of a storm … Read More “Birds to look for when winter winds kick up”

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What to look for as birds molt their worn-out feathers

Late summer is the time of year when many birds replace their feathers in a process called molt. Old feathers, most of which have been worn for about a year, fall out, and new feathers grow in their place. Gulls, for example, molt their wing feathers only once a year, and we generally don’t notice … Read More “What to look for as birds molt their worn-out feathers”

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David Sibley explains how to point out a bird’s location

Sign up for our newsletter, full of identification tips, news, and more! Discussions of birding skills focus mainly on finding and identifying birds, but being able to describe the location of a bird so that other people can see it is another very important, and often overlooked, aspect of birding. Giving directions is a learned … Read More “David Sibley explains how to point out a bird’s location”

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David Sibley explains why a bird’s shape can be deceiving

Want to learn more about birds? Sign up for our newsletter!  Experienced birders often stress the importance of shape and proportions for identification, and there is no doubt that shape is one of the most valuable identification clues, but it takes some practice and experience to be able to notice and interpret the differences. A … Read More “David Sibley explains why a bird’s shape can be deceiving”

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David Sibley’s tips for identifying found feathers

Occasionally we run across loose feathers on the ground — sometimes a single feather, sometimes a bunch together (which usually marks the scene of a predator’s meal). Regardless of the situation, the same question always comes up: What species lost these feathers? The best way to begin is to ignore color and instead study the … Read More “David Sibley’s tips for identifying found feathers”

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David Sibley describes how birds deal with summer heat

With a high body temperature, extremely good insulation, and limited ways to dissipate heat, one of the biggest risks for birds in hot weather is simply overheating. Maintaining a normal activity level in hundred-degree heat is potentially fatal for a bird, and some of the strategies birds use to keep cool can dramatically change their … Read More “David Sibley describes how birds deal with summer heat”

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David Sibley: How feather color can reveal a songbird’s age

Determining the age of songbirds in the field generally requires close views, careful study, and some experience. But in a few species in spring, the task can be relatively straightforward, and these birds provide a good starting point for understanding age variation in other songbirds. The key is a difference in wing-molt patterns between first-year … Read More “David Sibley: How feather color can reveal a songbird’s age”

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David Sibley on bird ID: How shape changes with the seasons

The overall shapes and proportions of birds provide important clues to their identity. In fact, as birders gain experience, they rely on shape more and more. The subtle clues form the basis of subconscious recognition that allows us to identify a species at a glance. As we gain experience, we also come to learn that … Read More “David Sibley on bird ID: How shape changes with the seasons”

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David Sibley: How to tell Purple Finch from House Finch

As the winter feeding season approaches, a perennial identification challenge looms: Purple Finch versus House Finch. The two species are close relatives. Both are sparrow-sized and have stout bills. Adult males show lots of reddish color, while females and immatures are brown and streaky. Field guides tend to stress details of color for identification, but … Read More “David Sibley: How to tell Purple Finch from House Finch”

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David Sibley: How to make peace with changes to your checklist

Many birders are understandably frustrated by changes in birds’ names, and in the sequence of species on checklists. It can be hard to keep up, but each revision generally highlights a significant advance in our understanding of birds and is worth some reflection. It is important to point out that the changes are the judgments … Read More “David Sibley: How to make peace with changes to your checklist”

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How to use your binoculars to find more birds

The essential first step in birding is simply finding birds to watch. Moving to the next step — identification — is possible only after a bird has been located. Experienced birders use both conscious and subconscious habits to maximize their chances of finding birds. Making frequent use of binoculars is one of the habits. The … Read More “How to use your binoculars to find more birds”

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How details of bird song reveal details of birds’ social lives

A key to appreciating bird song is learning to decipher a little bit of its meaning. Most of the information it contains is beyond our understanding, but one feature is relatively easy to hear and can be revealing: whether successive songs from an individual bird are the same or different. In most songbirds, each male will use … Read More “How details of bird song reveal details of birds’ social lives”

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David Sibley: How reflected light gives birds their most vivid plumage

The brilliant yellow, orange, and red that you seen on many birds are not just for decoration; the colors send an important message about the health of each individual. The colors are products of pigments known as carotenoids, which a bird gains from its diet and uses in its immune system. Consequently, a bird showing … Read More “David Sibley: How reflected light gives birds their most vivid plumage”

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Sketches by David Sibley reveal similarity and variation in bill shape

When we talk about identification, we tend to focus on differences, but it can be instructive (and reassuring) to think about similarities. In fact, understanding differences often requires us to appreciate the similarities between species. Bill shapes vary widely, and nearly every species can be identified by its bill alone. The shapes are closely related … Read More “Sketches by David Sibley reveal similarity and variation in bill shape”

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David Sibley: You can recognize groups of birds by the way they move

Experienced birders can often identify a bird after seeing only a flash of movement. The way a bird moves from perch to perch, how it uses its tail and wings when landing, the spring in its step — all can trigger recognition. Any birder should be able to appreciate this point. You only need to … Read More “David Sibley: You can recognize groups of birds by the way they move”

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David Sibley: How birds can change color without molting

Most of the dramatic seasonal changes in a bird’s appearance are the result of molt — that is, the replacement of old feathers with new. A male Scarlet Tanager replaces the drab greenish feathers of winter with intense red in spring, and then molts back to greenish in the fall. All birds molt at least … Read More “David Sibley: How birds can change color without molting”

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David Sibley: What the changing colors of a songbird’s bill mean

Late summer is a time of transition for birds and a time of tremendous variety for birders. You can see adult birds in breeding plumage (looking worn after a long breeding season), fresh nonbreeding plumage, and any stage in between. And in the same flock, you might find newly fledged birds still in juvenal plumage, … Read More “David Sibley: What the changing colors of a songbird’s bill mean”

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David Sibley gives simple tricks for locating a bird you can hear but can’t see

Spring is the season for birdsong, but seeing the singer can sometimes be a challenge. Here are simple tricks that will help you locate a singing bird. Our brain determines the direction of a noise based on when the sound reaches each ear. A sound coming from the right will reach your right ear a … Read More “David Sibley gives simple tricks for locating a bird you can hear but can’t see”

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David Sibley tells how to identify streaky sparrows by their back pattern

When we talk about identifying sparrows and other streaky brownish birds, one of the things we focus on is whether the breast is streaked or unstreaked. This is a good place to start, as it allows us to divide birds swiftly into two groups, but what then? Or what if the bird is facing away … Read More “David Sibley tells how to identify streaky sparrows by their back pattern”

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David Sibley: How markings on feathers make spots and streaks on birds

Birds’ incredible range of color patterns can be useful for identification, but the diversity can also be overwhelming. The key to deciphering color patterns is understanding a few basic facts about feathers. First, they grow in organized rows, always out from the body and curving back toward the tail. Second, each feather overlaps the one … Read More “David Sibley: How markings on feathers make spots and streaks on birds”

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David Sibley explains how studying one detail will help you remember the whole bird

If you’ve ever read about how to improve your identification skills, you have undoubtedly run across these suggestions: Continue watching after you’ve identified the bird. Leave your field guide at home. Take notes or draw sketches. Get to know common birds. The suggestions are all related. Their ultimate goal is to increase your engagement, focus … Read More “David Sibley explains how studying one detail will help you remember the whole bird”

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David Sibley explains how a bird can change its appearance by rearranging its feathers

Feather color accounts for most of the variation that we see in the appearance of birds, since color fluctuates with age, sex, and other factors, but a bird’s appearance can also change dramatically based on how the feathers are arranged. Willet provides an obvious example. Its white wing stripe is invisible when the wings are … Read More “David Sibley explains how a bird can change its appearance by rearranging its feathers”

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David Sibley explains how to use nesting behavior to help identify birds

In most of North America, nesting behavior is common any time between April and July. You may not think of it as a field mark, but it can be helpful in the identification process, since it narrows the possibilities. You can start by noticing the signs of nesting. Almost any bird holding food or nesting … Read More “David Sibley explains how to use nesting behavior to help identify birds”

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David Sibley explains how birds that really want to be noticed use visual signals as well as song

Identifying birds is really about understanding birds. Being attuned to the basics of bird behavior can help us put a name on species. Spring is the time of courtship behavior. Singing birds surround us, and their songs offer multiple clues to their identity. We humans interpret birdsong as a joyous outpouring — a celebration of … Read More “David Sibley explains how birds that really want to be noticed use visual signals as well as song”

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David Sibley explains what to look for the next time you see a partial albino bird

Sooner or later everyone who watches birds will come across a real oddball. Some of the more frequently seen abnormal birds are the partial albinos. They can be all white, have white patches (a white head, perhaps), or appear pale grayish tan all over. Many terms are used for such birds, but I prefer simply … Read More “David Sibley explains what to look for the next time you see a partial albino bird”

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