Exotic Bird World
Exotic birds are amongst the most loved creatures

Field Guide

Audubon Field Guide to Birds

According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, over 50 million Americans call themselves birders, and the numbers are increasing. Birdwatching is big business, with birders spending over $32 billion each year, translating into $85 billion in economic benefits to businesses and over 800,000 jobs. Clearly, birds have flown into our hearts. To begin birdwatching, you will need a field guide. The Audubon Field Guide to Birds is the definitive guide for in-field identification.

The Audubon Guide

The Audubon guide is considered the standard by which other field guides are judged. The guide uses color plates, which is fitting, as John James Audubon published Birds of America, containing 435 of his own hand-colored prints. Use of photographs rather than drawings is preferred by many birdwatchers, so the Audubon guide contains color photographs.

To identify a bird, a thumb print of the silhouette of the bird appears on the individual color plate. Identifying a bird, especially one in a family of look-alike species, such as sparrows, can be a difficult task. The thumb print guides the birder to look at the overall shape of a bird. The type of bird can often be identified by disregarding color and markings briefly and focusing on its shape. Wading birds, such as herons and egrets, will have long legs.

Identifying by Shape

Look also for the shape of the tail and wings. Pointed wings and a long tail are indicative of an accipiter like a kestrel or sharp-shinned hawk rather than the broad wings and rounded tail of a broad-wing hawk or red-tail hawk. Note the shape of the bill, which can distinguish an insect-eating bird like a barn swallow with its short bill and wide mouth gap. Paying attention to behavior such as tree climbing can provide additional clues.

Another helpful identification technique is to compare the size of the unidentified bird with a known bird. Anyone can identify a robin, for example. Consider how the bird compares to the robin. Is it bigger, wider? What makes the bird different from a robin?

Identifying Marks

Finally, focus on more specific details of the bird. For this, a spotting scope is helpful. It can be hard to hold a pair of binoculars steady long enough to note identifying marks. A spotting scope can sit on a tripod or attach to a stable base such as a car window. The stable surface gives the observer the freedom to view the bird as long as needed.

Markings to look for include any stripes on the head, eye rings or stripes, color patterns on the tail, or in the case of ducks, the color of the speculum on the wing. The speculum is an area of color on the wings. In mallards, for example, it is a fluorescent blue patch underlined with white.

A Systematic Approach

The Audubon Field Guide to Birds provides a systematic approach to bird identification. By focusing on the general and then the specific, the birder can successfully identify the type and species of an unknown bird.

Read more: