“Birds will give you a window, if you allow them. They will show you secrets from another world– fresh vision that, though it is avian, can accompany you home and alter your life. They will do this for you even if you don’t know their names– though such knowing is a thoughtful gesture. They will do this for you if you watch them.”Lyanda Lynn Haupt, Rare Encounters with Ordinary Birds
Are you into birding yet? No, never mind, this is the best time to get into birding. The whole world is in a lockdown, the nature has taken over and the birds are enjoying the clear skies, no pollution, hardly any sound due to less traffic. Just look out of your window, get on your terrace, you will hear birds, you will see them fly past you. There are over 15000 bird species in the world, so how do you recognise the ones around you. We have listed the Top 5 ways to begin birding for you.
- Plumage and physical patterns
- Size, shape and silhouette
- Bird calls and bird songs
- Ecosystems and individuals
- The gestalt of a bird
For many people, it might seem a bit challenging to hold their gaze on a bird for more than a couple of seconds, particularly if they’re just starting out. Some begin to question whether they can truly master the skill to understand the behaviour of the feathered denizens of our planet let alone identifying them. At times, even the most experienced ornithologists scratch their heads in bewilderment when it comes to identifying certain species during the course of their field study. However, once you’ve been ‘bitten by the birding bug’, so to speak, there’s very little that will deter you from studying admiring the awe inspiring beauty it presents. The first and primary driving factor that makes it easier to venture into the limitless passion is a sense of appreciation for the avifauna around you. Once that seed is imprinted in the ruminations of the mind, then over time with ample practice, you will be well on your way to become a seasoned birder.
We have listed the Top 5 ways to begin birding below that you may follow to get familiar with bird identification. While some of these are enough to embed the features of the bird in question, for others a culmination of several characteristics may be required to be able to crack its identity.
- Plumage and Physical Patterns
In most cases, the one feature of a bird that instantly grabs attention is the colour and patterns of the bird’s plumage. Some birds have striking colours with blues, yellows and reds while others incorporate a spectrum of colours and iridescence that captivate many with their enchantment. In a range of species, males and females are predominantly sexually dimorphic, which means they exhibit different colours. Also, plumages may vary depending on the breeding season as well where males may develop additional colours or tail feathers to attract a female.
Anatomy and the markings in birds too are a dead giveaway to identify a bird. Keeping a watchful eye for feature such as the bill shape, eye colour, wing and tail markings or barring, can be extremely helpful along the way.
- Size, Shape and Silhouette
Another few features one should consider as they engage in birdwatching is the size, shape and silhouette of the bird. Though, this is a skill one builds over time with experience. Comparing a bird with reference to another gives you an idea of categories you could fit certain bird types into. For example, birds of prey or raptors like eagles and owls can be considered to be larger than bird clubbed sunbirds, white eyes and warblers. A great way to make a clear cut distinction is to use the size of common birds in your area as a reliable indicator. As far as the shape and silhouette are concerned, we look at certain features that define the outline of the bird. Like for instance, owls have a more rounded bodies. Flamingos and Storks have longer legs while Ibises have long scythe like beaks. Even the way birds perch or stand is distinctive to bird families. Raptors tend to adopt a stance which is more upright while passerines, doves, parakeets perch horizontally.
- Bird Calls and Bird Songs
Before we set our eyes on a bird, we hear them. This is true, considering we wake up to dawn chorus of bird song every morning. Even as one struts about with a pair of binoculars, searching for an elusive bird that skulks about in the undergrowth, we are alerted to its position as soon as we hear it call. Birds largely create sounds to either invite a mate, alarm at threats or proclaim territory. Lending an ear to their auditory cues is one of the best ways to identify them, considering each bird call is highly unique. The more one listens, the better their ears tune in to catch the whistle, hoot and songs of birds.
- Ecosystems and Individuals
Our planet is shaped by the countless habitats and ecosystems that forge the connection of species that lie within them. Gauging the environment and the role of individuals helps us better understand the behavior of these birds and where they are likely to be seen. For example, wetlands are ideal for waterfowl such as ducks, geese, herons and storks as they provide a wealth aquatic vegetation along with fish and smaller reptiles as food. In grasslands, grain eaters are known to thrive as their bills have adapted to crack open seeds. Woodlands on the other hand are the place to be for barbets, hornbills and pigeons that depend on the seasonal fruit prevalent in the area while the forest floor is buffet of for babblers that leave no leaf unturned to find insects. Each and every corner of the planet has a species of bird interacting with their environment in one way or another. Tapping into their behavior gives us a better idea of where they might be.
- The Gestalt of a Bird
Commonly termed as the ‘jizz’ of a bird, it is the culmination all the characteristics mentioned above that gives us the entire picture of the bird. This entails the movement, behavior, the flight pattern, the stance, the shape, color etc. Through many years of experience and observations, birders become far more tuned in with the birds around them. What this means is that, even upon casual observation or a glimpse, they are able to identify the bird even if it is at a considerable distance or happens to fly by with great speed. At many times, it may not be accurate enough to completely identify the bird but it most certainly gives an idea of the bird type or bird family they may have seen, especially if the conditions such as light were poor. Although, if one banks heavily on just the jizz, there is a possibility to make mistakes and misidentify the birds. However, if you practice enough to master the art, birding becomes an effortless skill which you once thought was impossible.
So, go ahead and observe away. Start with the birds in your neighborhood. Once you get the momentum, head to areas where you’re likely to see more birds, such as marshy wetlands, woodlands etc. Birds are present in every nook and corner; it’s the types that are different. So begin today, begin now. A plethora of life awaits.