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Song Sparrow?


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It was spotted late this afternoon in Brooklyn. Size-wise it looks like a sparrow that is fluffed up from a bath. It stood on this 20' branch for a while, grooming itself. What I don't like about the Song Sparrow ID is the bands on the head are blueish, and the brown pattern on its back stops halfway down. 

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1 minute ago, BirdManAndy said:

Thanks for the pointers, Charlie. So lets say you think its a sparrow, but are not sure which one, and Merlin ID does not offer a good match, what do you do? Should you page through Sibley's or look at all the Sparrows by taxonomy?

This is a slam-dunk White-throated Sparrow. 

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Sibley is a good first step. You knew it was a sparrow so taking a look there would at least eliminate the possibility that it was something relatively straightforward.

Re Merlin I'm surprised it didn't get you there. When you submitted did you zoom in on the bird until it filled the box, and was white throated sparrow given as an option?

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1 hour ago, BirdManAndy said:

Thanks for the pointers, Charlie. So lets say you think its a sparrow, but are not sure which one, and Merlin ID does not offer a good match, what do you do? Should you page through Sibley's or look at all the Sparrows by taxonomy?

I start with my eBird checklist for the day.  That shows me what sparrows / birds are expected in the area at that time of year.  I check those in Sibley and NatGeo to narrow the list, then use AllAboutBirds if I couldn't reach a conclusion.  I also check AAB' history for a species to see how common it is in the area.  If I'm still stuck, I come here

I prefer printed guides as a first step because looking for one bird exposes me to images and info on the alternatives. AAB's 'Similar Species' feature also does that, in a less detail fashion.

But really, it starts with thumbing through your field guide regularly before you're trying to nail down a specific bird.  If you're fairly new to birding, consider a guide to birds in your state as an alternative to a larger 'North America East / West' guide.  A smaller guide with a reduced number of species makes it easier to learn the birds you're most likely to see in your area (and less intimidating to try!).  The American Birding Association offers well-reviewed guides for some states and regions; Buteo Books has those and other guides covering the states the ABA hasn't gotten to yet.

You correctly identified the bird's family.  You knew why you didn't like your initial species ID.  I don't want to sound patronizing but those are both important skills.  Remember, nobody was born knowing this stuff, not even those snot-nosed little punks bouncing around here like kinglets on Red Bull :classic_laugh:

Edited by Charlie Spencer
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1 hour ago, PaulK said:

Re Merlin I'm surprised it didn't get you there. When you submitted did you zoom in on the bird until it filled the box, and was white throated sparrow given as an option?

I used the questionnaire id, not the picture id, and it did not show my bird. When the questionnaire id does not show your bird, you have to edit your choices like picking a different set of 3 color. If you thought the red on the duck was black, you might not see your bird. That said, Merlin Id works surprisingly well.

59 minutes ago, Charlie Spencer said:

I start with my eBird checklist for the day.  That shows me what sparrows / birds are expected in the area at that time of year.  I check those in Sibley and NatGeo to narrow the list, then use AllAboutBirds if I couldn't reach a conclusion.  I also check AAB' history for a species to see how common it is in the area.  If I'm still stuck, I come here

I just installed eBird on my phone. Thanks for the advice. 

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I'm glad you've had luck with the Merlin bird ID, I haven't had so much luck except with photo ID pointing me in the right direction.

It would be really useful if @Charlie Spencercould please share what he means by his eBird checklist of the day, as that's not something I'm familiar with. The explore tab of the eBird app is easy to use but there's a lot more on the website as well. If you haven't played with it yet it's worth a look. https://ebird.org/region/US-NY-061

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@PaulK, I assume you use eBird to enter your sightings.  If you look at your checklist in 'Edit' mode, you'll see the birds most likely to be in the area on that date.  For initial ID attempts, I ignore the rare species.  On the web page, rarities are turned off by default; on the app, they're marked with red dots.

So for my last backyard list a few days ago, ignoring rarities, the likely sparrows in central SC in late March are Chipping, Field, Dark-eyed Junco, White-throated, Song, Swamp, and Eastern Towhee.  Even the briefest pass through a guide will eliminate juncos and towhees as likely IDs for the bird above.

If I were to pull up a checklist from June or September or December, I'd see different species as being likely in my yard at those times of year.  Juncos wouldn't appear at all, Chipping and White-throated would probably be rarities; Vesper and Savannahs would become likely suspects.

Did that clarify using an eBird checklist to narrow down what you may have seen?  If not, Ican take another crack at it.

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29 minutes ago, Charlie Spencer said:

@PaulK, I assume you use eBird to enter your sightings.  If you look at your checklist in 'Edit' mode, you'll see the birds most likely to be in the area on that date.  For initial ID attempts, I ignore the rare species.  On the web page, rarities are turned off by default; on the app, they're marked with red dots.

So for my last backyard list a few days ago, ignoring rarities, the likely sparrows in central SC in late March are Chipping, Field, Dark-eyed Junco, White-throated, Song, Swamp, and Eastern Towhee.  Even the briefest pass through a guide will eliminate juncos and towhees as likely IDs for the bird above.

If I were to pull up a checklist from June or September or December, I'd see different species as being likely in my yard at those times of year.  Juncos wouldn't appear at all, Chipping and White-throated would probably be rarities; Vesper and Savannahs would become likely suspects.

Did that clarify using an eBird checklist to narrow down what you may have seen?  If not, Ican take another crack at it.

There’s an easier way to do this. Go to Merlin, hit “Explore Birds” on the main menu, hit the button in the top-right corner, and then hit “Likely Birds” and then enter your date and location as shown below.

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11 hours ago, PaulK said:

there's a lot more on the website as well.

If people have used only the mobile app, and haven't looked at the web site on a laptop or computer monitor, they're missing most of eBird's capabilities.  They're especially missing the stats and graphs of species and area sightings.

Long-billed and Short-billed Dowitchers sure sound different, but what if the bird didn't say anything?  I had silent dows on a recent trip to the SC coast, and neither showed as rare on the checklist.  The seasonal bar charts on the web site showed both pass through regularly but Longs are found in late March maybe once a week; Shorts are five times more common.

You can also use the web site to generate checklists for a destination.  You can scan that for unfamiliar birds, then look them up in a guide or AAB to become familiar with them in advance.

If anyone hasn't check it out yet, here's your next rainy day time sink: http://ebird.org/content/ebird/

There's also a free tutorial showing how to access these features and more: https://academy.allaboutbirds.org/product/ebird-essentials/

Edited by Charlie Spencer
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9 minutes ago, Seanbirds said:

There’s an easier way to do this. Go to Merlin, hit “Explore Birds” on the main menu, hit the button in the top-right corner, and then hit “Likely Birds” and then enter your date and location as shown below.

Yeah, I have to get more familiar with Merlin.  That should probably be MY next rainy day project.

I get stuck in my old school PC-oriented habits because I'm most comfortable with a keyboard, mouse, and big ol' honkin' monitor.  I still find typing on a phone to be cumbersome, and cursor control is downright frustrating.  I'm a bit better on a tablet with larger keys and more space to work with.

Edited by Charlie Spencer
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That's really helpful, thank you! Never occurred to me to use the lists this way.

I've just recently learned that the explore tab in the eBird app will show you a list of recent sightings in your area, and if you click on one it will show them on the map right in the app. 

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1 hour ago, PaulK said:

That's really helpful, thank you! Never occurred to me to use the lists this way.

I've just recently learned that the explore tab in the eBird app will show you a list of recent sightings in your area, and if you click on one it will show them on the map right in the app. 

You can also sign up to receive e-mails listing rare sightings in your county, or birds seen that aren't on your county  life list.  Or any county, which is handy when you're traveling and want to know what's hot in the last day.

Edited by Charlie Spencer
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55 minutes ago, Charlie Spencer said:

You can also sign up to receive e-mails listing rare sightings in your county, or birds seen that aren't on your county  life list.  Or any county, which is handy when you're traveling and want to know what's hot in the last day.

This is useful if looking in hotspots. I have a shortcut on my phone to the local rare bird alert in case I ever want to check it, but the hotspots for those aren't places I normally get to easily. If I'm ever going to an actual hotspot I'll usually look it up to see what's around.

I'm guessing my normal birding is closer to @BirdManAndyin that I'm in a city looking at feeders and in smaller treed areas that aren't extensively birded (sorry if I'm misinterpreting!), so mostly I'm the only one reporting anything in my area with any frequency. Seeing what to expect in Merlin as @Seanbirdssaid or on the checklist itself is going to be really useful!

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