Category Archives: Birding skills

Springtime birding practice

In the SF Bay Area right now, hormones are raging, songs are exploding from every thicket, and every third bird seems to be carrying nesting material as it sneaks past.  I love birding at any level of intensity, but I do enjoy continuing to hone the craft and sharpen my skills of observation and inference.  Here are three challenges that I’ve been enjoying this spring.

  • Find a nest.  As you observe the birds, think about them as individuals, and ask what they are doing and why.  If you find a local bird carrying nesting material or food, extended observation will often show where they are nesting.  DO NOT AGITATE THE BIRDS OR APPROACH THE NEST TOO CLOSELY.  Causing nest failure would be a true shame.  If the bird appears agitated or is calling incessantly around you as you near the nest, back off.
  • Learn a bird’s repertoire.  Do you have a local wren or sparrow singing?  Does its song sound the same every time, or does it mix things up?  How many different elements are there (e.g. a buzzy part, a high whistle, a descending wheeze, a long trill)?  What shorter calls does it make?  Take notes on a single individual and really get to know it.
  • Identify habitat features.  For an abundant bird in your neighborhood, note the location of individuals.  Are there any common features that explain their presence?  Why are they absent from other spots?  For example, what tree species are the preferred perches of singing American Goldfinches?

If you do any of these exercises, let us know in the comments.  We can’t wait to hear what you’re learning (and share more of what we’re learning).