Don’t Panic – Identifying Birds

Don’t Panic – Identifying Birds

Don’t Panic – Identifying Birds

Contributed by Ken Dorey, Member Big Scrub Landcare. 

Birds may have evolved from dinosaurs but they’ve definitely upped their game in the PR department. They’re proactive in getting your attention, only too happy to flash colour and sing perfect notes – and all for free for those who stop to watch and listen. Ken Dorey continues his Don’t Panic series on knowing your Big Scrub world. This edition is on identifying birds.

I get more satisfaction out of identifying birds than I do out of recognising a tree. To be fair, I’m not alone: there are thousands of social groups whose only purpose is to look at birds while tree huggers, for the most part, are a solitary breed. I’ve worked hard to learn my trees and now I have huge pleasure in using a whole range of tools to step into the inviting world of birds.

The obvious starting point is a pair of binoculars. Don’t get tricked into thinking that greater magnification is better. Powerful binoculars have small fields of view so that it may take several seconds to find the bird – seconds you may not have. A typical bird-watching binocular may be 8×40, where the first number is the multiplication size (more than x10 is not recommended) while the second number is the millimetres across the lens (the wider the lens, the easier to see in low light). A good website to learn more about binoculars is Binoculars Buying Guide.

The second essential is a field guide. Two popular field guides are Field Guide to the Birds of Australia, (Simpson and Day, $24.99) and Field Guide to Australian Birds, (Michael Morcombe, $49.95).

Field guides are a must have for the serious birdwatcher but their purpose is to identify birds. I’ve found a few drawbacks with most field guides; they can overwhelm the beginner with more than 800 species of Australian birds; they may not describe behaviour, diet or the little things that make that bird special; the ‘written’ call can be hard to match to the noise you’ve heard; and they use drawings instead of pictures (this helps in conformity of size and layout so that helpful little arrows can point to subtle differences between the sexes and similar species, but sometimes the drawings don’t match your living bird). For photographs a good, pocket-sized, beginners book is A Photographic Guide to Birds of Australia, (P Rowland, $19.95). It has photographs of just 251 of the common species and has informative, rather than diagnostic, text.

Perhaps the biggest breakthrough in bird ID’ing is a field guide that’s always with you and plays real birdcalls. The app, eGuide to Australian Birds (Morcombe and Stewart, $29.99), revolutionises real-time bird identification, anywhere, anytime. This app uses drawings instead of photographs but it displays well on the larger screen of an iPad if you’re searching for birds.

If you think you know the bird name, or wish to search bird ‘groups’, then a great place is Michael Dahlem’s website which has heaps of pictures and helpful birdcalls.

Birds may have evolved from dinosaurs but they’ve definitely upped their game in the PR department. They’re proactive in getting your attention, only too happy to flash colour and sing perfect notes – and all for free for those who stop to watch and listen.

PS Some fleeting, nondescript birds, known as DBJs (daggy brown jobs), can defy identification. Good luck!

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