The Fun of Bird Identification in Western Massachusetts Made Easy
Birds are everywhere this time of year, some migrating, some that stay with us over winter. Do you know who you’re sharing your yard with? Birds of all sorts have long since migrated to and from western Massachusetts, nesting here for the summer or passing through in their migrations… and it’s high time to get out and get birding!
Birds species can, of course, be identified by looking at them – their size, shape, color, feather pattern, and other distinctive markings help to distinguish one species from another. But what happens if you can’t get a close look at a bird? What if a flash of red passes by up ahead on a trail, or you’ve spotted a raptor soaring high above you? Often times you’re left with only a roadside silhouette of a sighting with which to try and identify a species, and using physical features alone can sometimes be very difficult. On top of the challenges presented by partial sightings are the similarities that some species share – it can be hard to tell which small, semi-spotted brown-and-white bird you’re seeing if you don’t have binoculars allowing you a closer look.
Learning to identify birds by their calls opens up a whole new world of bird identification. Not only does it demystify any question your family may ever have about exactly which kind of tanager or sparrow you’ve seen, but identifying birds by their call can allow you to know what birds are nearby without ever having to see them! Even if they’re cleverly camouflaged or roosted at the top of a tall tree, if you can hear a bird’s song, you’ve got a good shot at determining who is chattering.
Minnesota Department of Natural Resources
Thanks to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, families can work together to learn common bird calls using an interactive bird song poster. The beautifully illustrated poster includes detailed depictions of nearly 25 commonly found North American birds, and when viewers click on a bird, their song is played! Families can explore the poster, listening to the unique call of each bird. Hearing each birds’ call multiple times can help families to learn and remember what sets each call apart from the others. For practice, try playing each call and trying to identify its source species without looking at the screen – you’ll be surprised how difficult it can be to tell some of the calls apart!
Cornell Lab of Ornithology
In the fall and winter, if you listen at night you might be able to catch the call of an owl as they begin nesting and using their voices to establish their territories and attract a mate in the dark. The Cornell Lab of Ornithology has an excellent YouTube channel worth checking out where you will find video to help your family identify bird calls, like this Owl Sampler:
National Audubon Society
Additionally, the National Audubon Society offers a smartphone app titled Audubon Birds. Available for iPhone and Droid, the app includes over 3,000 images of birds, providing an exhaustive database of bird species – users can look up not only specific bird species but the specific time of year in which they have been spotted, the gender of the bird, and the habitat in which they may be found. The app even offers a special feature that allows users to track their bird sightings using an account created on the National Audubon Society’s website. Audubon Birds is a tech-y bird watching dream: no flipping pages or checking an index – just a fast track to bird ID!