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

MAKING AN ENTRANCE: In these sketches of a goldfinch (top), sparrow (center), and Blue Jay (bottom), blue lines indicate flight paths and landing hops. Green lines show how the different birds typically move on the ground. Artwork by David Allen Sibley.
MAKING AN ENTRANCE: In these sketches of a goldfinch (top), sparrow (center), and Blue Jay (bottom), blue lines indicate flight paths and landing hops. Green lines show how the different birds typically move on the ground. Artwork by David Allen Sibley.

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 think of a woodpecker or hummingbird to realize that you already know two types of birds with distinctive and instantly recognizable movements. Chickadees, jays, wrens, doves, sparrows, thrushes — each group has its unique gait and style.

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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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