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Requesting material for 'Tips for New Birders' post


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I've threatened to do it repeatedly, and it's time to get off my cloaca.

I've started this post to solicit your suggestions, hints, and tips for new birders.  This post will NOT be the final product.  I'll edit your suggestions into a new post, similar to the way we created the "How to Start a New ID Request" post over on the 'NA ID' page.  With any luck, Her Most Royal Highness @Aveschapineswill see fit to pin it up for newbies.

Try to keep your suggestions basic enough for beginners.  We're after hints about birding, field craft, tools and techniques, maybe backyard birding; in fact, I'll probably use those general categories as the format for the final product.  I'm trying to avoid information related to specific species or locations; we'll leave those for the ID or Trip forums.  This time around, I'm going to try to remember to give credit for the suggestions; I've always regretted leaving the contributors' names off the 'New ID Request' post.

Okay, have at it.  If you're frozen in and / or quarentining (is that a verb?) this weekend, maybe this will keep you distracted for a while.  Stay safe and warm.

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Get a field guide - Sibley, NatGeo.  I will override the temptation to include my patented rant on this subject, but I can't promise I won't link to it.

Hook up with a local birding group.

Join eBird

You can get good 8x42 binos for less than $150.

If you only buy one bird food, it should be black oil sunflower seed (a.k.a 'BOSS').  Generic 'Wild Bird Seed' is mostly milo and millet, which feeder birds usually toss out or ignore.  You're just feeding squirrels (or mice, or rats).

 

Edited by Charlie Spencer
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8 minutes ago, lonestranger said:

I need to verify it myself. 😉

And sometimes it is so bad he has to eat it all by himself, to save everyone else of course.

Edited by Kevin
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A couple more things to add to the list. 

 

Wear clothing that matches the habitat you are in, I can get a lot closer to birds when I am wearing Black or Brown instead of White or Yellow.

The ebird Photo Quizzes are a good way to get familiar with the birds in your area. They are also more fun (at least to me), than flipping through Field Guides.

Information on cleaning bird feeders, you would be shocked how many people don't know you should clean your feeders.

Just common sense, but when out birding, bring lots of water. I know there have been times where I didn't, and it's no fun. 

Edited by Aidan B
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My number one piece of advice would be to spend time looking at and noticing birds, preferably in the field. Feeder studies are great and serve a purpose, but being out in the field looking at birds, noticing behavior, plumage characteristics, vocalizations, and what impression a bird gives you will help you identify and understand birds.

Secondly, spend time in the field with someone who is a much better birder than you. This applies to all birders at all levels, since there is a literal lifetime's worth of knowledge to be gained regarding the broad category of "birding," but for new or beginning birders, this is often the best way to know and understand what you are looking at. Field guides only go so far.

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Accept that you'll make some bad ID's, and misjudging size will be the cause of some of them.

Don't rush from one bird to the next just to get a higher volume of birds on your list. Enjoy the quality of birding as much as the quantity of birds.

 

Edited by lonestranger
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Reading through this site will help you learn lots of tips for differentiating similar species. For example, before I joined this site I didn’t know the difference between House Finch and Purple Finch, or Sharp-Shinned and Cooper’s Hawks. After reading other people’s posts about these birds and how other people identified them, I now know what to look for when identifying birds.

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1 hour ago, Charlie Spencer said:

I've started this post to solicit your suggestions, hints, and tips for new birders.  This post will NOT be the final product.  I'll edit your suggestions into a new post, similar to the way we created the "How to Start a New ID Request" post over on the 'NA ID' page.  With any luck, Her Most Royal Highness @Aveschapineswill see fit to pin it up for newbies.

 

Got your bribe gift so happy to feature and pin it!

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- Try to identify birds yourself before always asking for help from experienced birders. The exercise of studying the bird and its different features (size and shape, bill, color patterns, tail shape and length, behavior, etc.) will sharpen your ID skills much more than having someone else tell you what a bird is. If someone else does help you with the ID go back to your guide and the bird or your photos/notes and see for yourself what confirms the ID. 

- If you like to photograph birds, don't sacrifice field observation for a photo. Try to watch the bird as much as possible and make getting photos a secondary goal. Write down or record a description as well; not all photos provide all of the information needed for an ID. Sometimes distortions can occur that make field marks look different in photos.

- Make notes! Our memories are very faulty and it's very easy to convince yourself that bird's legs were really red when it makes it match an exciting species. Also remember the birder's mantra - "Size is very difficult to judge in the field!!!" Experienced birders can tell you their stories of when they were dramatically mistaken about the size of a bird observed in the field. (Mine involves a Blue-and-White Mockingbird that was not actually the size of a big jay.) This can be even harder when using binoculars. 

- Have fun. Birding is a hobby we participate in because we like it. Look for birding buddies that support you. Some friendly competition can be fun but if your companions make you feel worthless or stupid because of your lack of experience you need new birding buddies.

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This has probably been mentioned, but learn the familiar birds of the area. Even though you might see house finch everywhere, look through them and you'll be better suited in finding a Purple Finch. 

If you hear a call that isn't familiar, try to find the bird. It might be something interesting.

Often the eBird hotspots with the most species in the area aren't the best places to bird, either they are bad in a certain time of year, or mostly cater to watrfowl.

Most Audubon society go on field trips a few times a month led by a experienced birder. Join one.

See if there is a listserv for your local area. You can get rare bird information, or ask questions you have about birding.

Sign up for need alerts on eBird for your county. It will help you point to new birds that you haven't seen before.

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Put up a feeder! This way you can watch birds in a relaxing setting, and they come to you! This way you can start to try and notice the little things about birds, like their behavior, or other subtle characteristics. Also, if your able to sit outside and watch the feeders, listen to the birds as well. Trying to learn calls can be overwhelming, as each species makes a variety, so start small! Once your familiar with your regular yard birds, when something new pops up, you’ll know!

If your feeling overwhelmed by the sheer magnitude of birds in a field guide, or even after you’ve whittled it down to the birds of your area, maybe find a group of birds that interests you, then start branching out from there! That’s how I started. I got into birding because of a small Hawk on my walk home from school, and just looking through the field guide we happened to have and watching the bird, I found it so cool that I could know what species it is! I then tried to learn all the raptors in my area, then the US! Then I learned about warblers, and down the rabbit hole of birding I went!

Be patient. Learning to sit and watch a bird for a while until you see what you need to make an ID is very useful. And, by the time you’ve been satisfied by the bird your watching, a new one is likely to appear! 
 

Don’t go to hard on yourself. If you make a mistake, that’s alright! Most birders are casual with their hobby, and won’t judge you. If anything, they’ll want to help! And it’s been said before, but don’t force an ID. If you don’t know for sure what the bird is, don’t report it as a certain species. That’s why there are “sp.” options on eBird, if that’s how you choose to keep track of your sightings, if at all!

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Another one for learning the most common birds in the area first, and getting to know them well. When friends here ask me for recommendations I suggest watching videos on youtube of song sparrows, house finches, and robins singing: knowing what a sparrow vs finch vs robin sounds like is a great first step in understanding the sound in the background, how to pick our individual songs, and how to realize when there's something else around. Knowing what they look like and how they move is a good first step in being able to say "looked like a sparrow but wasn't a song sparrow". And read the text in the field guide, especially the introductory material, but also the species descriptions. That's not the interesting part at the start, but it'll kickstart the learning process.

Also! If you use a camera, get comfortable with taking crappy photos for ID purposes rather than aiming for perfection, unless that's what you're aiming for. I think of my camera as doubling as long term binoculars.

Edited by PaulK
Also!
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Maybe something about birding ethics. Like why it’s not a good idea to flush birds for a better view as it can be detrimental to their health/survival (owls, etc). Same goes with nesting birds, just to keep your distance. Observe don’t disturb!

Also, I’ve found that when I started getting into recording bird calls, it helped me learn them faster. Also provides your own personal library as sometimes the holotype sounds provided on internet platforms don’t quiet match up 100%. 

Edited by Aaron
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6 hours ago, IKLland said:

Not sure if this was mentioned already, but the ONLY thing you absolutely NEED is a pair of quality binoculars to go birding with. 

Develop your call recognition skills and you don't even need those in a close environment (urban park, heavy woods, etc.), but I consider that approach to be a bit advanced.

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Same advice I gave my teenage nephew about politics, don't worry about what you call yourself or what you think others will call you.  Enjoy the birds how you want to enjoy them.  

My advice is start up eBird as soon as you can.  You never know if you want to get in to lists, or chasing, or Top 100.  Hard to go back and catch up, if you eventually do.  Even if you don't the data is a great way to contribute to science.  

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10 hours ago, Jefferson Shank said:

Instead of making a lousy recording for the WhatBirders to figure out...

Honestly, I can't hear 90% of the recordings posted here, even with my computer's speakers turned to 11.  It's obviously me, since others offer IDs.

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