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

OBSERVED DELIBERATELY: Notes jotted down in the field by David Sibley record how Magnolia Warbler usually holds its tail above its wingtips and flicks it downward, and that the bird often holds its head lower than its back. A notation near the top of the sketch describes the warbler’s “peaked rear crown.”
OBSERVED DELIBERATELY: Notes jotted down in the field by David Sibley record how Magnolia Warbler usually holds its tail above its wingtips and flicks it downward, and that the bird often holds its head lower than its back. A notation near the top of the sketch describes the warbler’s “peaked rear crown.”

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.

Sibley Field Notes_330x561The suggestions are all related. Their ultimate goal is to increase your engagement, focus your attention, and encourage you to look more carefully, so that you see (and remember) more details. My hunch, however, is that they are either too vague (“get to know common birds”) or too ambitious (“draw sketches”), and most birders probably never even get started.

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David Sibley

David Sibley

David Sibley writes the column “ID Toolkit” in every issue of BirdWatching. He published the Sibley Guide to Birds in 2000, the Sibley Guide to Bird Life and Behavior in 2001, and Sibley’s Birding Basics in 2002. He is also the author of the Sibley Guide to Trees (2009), the Sibley Guide to Birds-Second Edition (2014), and guides to birds of eastern and western North America (2016). He is the recipient of the American Birding Association’s Roger Tory Peterson Award for lifetime achievement in promoting the cause of birding and a recognition award from the National Wildlife Refuge System for his support of bird conservation.

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