Wow. They all kind of look alike while soaring, to me. So I’ve looked up a little info to get on the right path. This page indicates that it helps to first narrow down what type of raptor they are: eagle, buteo, accipiter, or falcon.
Comparing those shapes to a photo I snapped, I find I struggle to even narrow down. Because it was kind of big and soaring over an open road, and has a relatively short tail, I will go with “buteo.”
Then, based on the photos of buteos in flight, I will go with red-tailed hawk. It seems to match the pattern of dark fingers, wrists, armpits and head, with a light breast. Also, my hawk seems to have a reddish tail, which makes sense.
After learning about birds for a few months, it is becoming clearer that there is a difference between documenting what birds I’ve identified, and learning how to identify them in the field. It doesn’t help to go at it piecewise like I have.
There are just so darn many birds! It is easier to figure one out if it can be narrowed down to a subset of birds. Apparently this is easier if they are narrowed it by bird type (warbler, chickadee, etc) than by color such as “birds with yellow heads” :D
Plumage and color can look different depending on the lighting at that time of day, whether they are breeding, or just molted, or are a juvenile, or male vs female… Field marks are useful, and I am starting to pick those up: Are there wing bars? Eye rings? Streaking on the chest? What colors are the irises, the legs?
So, after doing things the hard way, I’m now earnestly trying to learn how to recognize basic bird types. Did I just see a finch or a sparrow? A crow or a blackbird?!
Somebody needs flash cards! ;)
The Cornell Lab of Ornithology has an excellent tutorial, and suggests four bird identification skills are:
- size and shape
- color pattern
My learning about size and shape begins today :)