Sunday, November 13, 2011

Keys To Proper Misidentification Of Birds

    I suppose I could do a post about how to identify birds just as Bob Dylan could give a seminar on how to sing opera if he wanted to. Instead, I've decided to pass along tips on how to overlook or misidentify birds. You might ask, what purpose would this information serve? I will try to provide some answers to this question in part 1.

Part 1:  The role of subpar birders in the birding community 
  1. If every birder were an expert then what would be the value of an expert birder? There are birders who spend countless hours studying birds in the field, reading books, and tapping into the latest technology to perfect their birding skills. The existence of  birders with subpar skills adds value to this level of achievement allowing experienced birders to share their knowledge with those who have less experience. It also allows those few elitist birders to derive some pleasure in looking down upon incompetent birders with pity and shame. After all, what would the value of gold be if everyone could find it in their backyard?
  2. Misery loves Company: How would you feel if you were the only birder in the crowd that was prone to making mistakes ? As a mediocre birder, you can provide a level of comfort to those who are still finding their way.
  There is so much information and technology available about birding these days that it is becoming increasingly difficult to maintain a level of incompetence. In Part 2 of this post I will provide a few ideas on how to counteract this problem.

Part 2: 7 ways to properly misidentify birds (or not identify them at all)
  1. Relying on color as your determining factor in identifying species: Many times color can be a key field mark in identifying a particular species but you can't always rely on these field marks. For example, an immature Bald Eagle doesn't have a white head , a female Red-winged Blackbird doesn't have a bright red patch on its wing, and maybe that yellow area on the side of a Savannah Sparrow's face doesn't show up so well on a cloudy day. These are some of the reasons why relying on color as a field mark can be a powerful tool in when it comes to properly misidentifying birds. Avoid using complicated field marks such as bill shape or tail length.
  2. If you've seen one grackle you've seen them all: Let's say a large flock of grackles land in a field. You take a glance at the them through binoculars and from what you can tell, they all look like grackles. If you check each individual bird in the flock it's possible you might come across another less common species such as a Rusty Blackbird for example. By looking at the flock as a whole you can avoid the possibility of picking out a rarer species.
  3. Don't bother cleaning the lenses on your binoculars: Regularly cleaning your binocular lenses may remove valuable residues such as coffee, donut smears, oil residue, and other organic materials resulting in improved image sharpness. This could make a difference when trying to distinguish between two similar species that are difficult to tell apart. In order to avoid this possibility just leave the lenses alone.
  4. Let the expert do the work:  Your out in the field with another birder who really knows their stuff. When they point out a bird just accept that they must have properly identified it. Just take a quick glance at the bird as yo admire its beauty and move on. By using this method, you can avoid improving your own birding skills. This is like being a passenger in a car while driving to an unfamiliar place. You won't remember the directions because someone else is doing the driving and you're not really paying attention.
  5. Ignore things like bird behavior and flight patterns: Noting details such as the flight pattern  or behavior of a bird will give unwanted clues as to its identity without relying on field marks. You'll most definitely want to avoid this one!  
  6. Ignore bird songs: Knowing the song of a given species can sometimes be a more reliable way of determining its identity than seeing it. 
  7. Don't trust your instincts: You're out on a field trip with a group of birders and you see a species whose identity is a unknown. Aim your spotting scope at the mystery bird and bring it into focus. Now here's the key- Rely on what everyone else in the group is saying about this bird and ignore what your own eyes are telling you. This is a good way of slowing the rate at which  your confidence grows as a birder.
  Obviously, we've just scratched the surface on this topic. If you have any other ideas on this subject feel free to share!

Note: The views expressed in this post don't necessarily reflect those of The Brownstone Birding Blog

related post: 10 things a new birder isn't required to do


Kathie Brown said...

Larry, what an ironic sense of humor you have! LOL, this was fun to read and I must admit (shamefully) that I have been guilty of some of these very things at times! OOPS!

Larry said...

Kathie-Is that what it is? I'm not sure myself where I was going with this one-but thanks-glad you enjoyed it.

Dan Huber said...

Larry, this is a fantastic post. Humorous but also this perspective really makes you think about how we often ID birds in the field. I am guilty of all of the above :)


Debbie Miller @HooootOwl said...

Great post!

Unknown said...

Hilarious! ...and a lot of truth in there.

april said...

I often feel guilty when someone identifies a bird and I ask, "What makes you say it's a ". Really good birders will explain how they arrived at their ID and I'll often learn something.

Larry said...

Dan-Thanks-I'm very familiar with these backward tactics myself.It's fun to mix things up a little.

Debbie/Birding is fun-glad you liked it.

April-it's good to ask questions like that. That sounds like a good birder and teacher. Not all good birders are good teachers and vice versa.

Cindy said...

Larry, you crack me up or was it your brother who really wrote this...:) and yes, I am definately guilty of all these birding pleasurers. Thanks for livening it up a bit!

troutbirder said...

No doubt about it. I definitely qualify on all seven of these skillful traits as a misidentification expert. What a hoot!

Ruth said...

Guilty of all of the above. I only trust my ID skills if I have taken a clear picture.

Larry said...

Cindy-troutbirder-glad you enjoyed it.

Ruth-Nothing to be guilty about.