How To Watch A Bird – I And The Bird #142

Well now, I know that most of you probably know how to watch a bird. But lately I’ve seen more and more birders just walking by birds of all kinds.

Starlings, sparrows, pigeons, ducks. Ignored.

Robins, finches, doves. Ignored, waved off.

Wait! Super-duper, ultra cool rarity. Watch! Look! Listen! Tell others, hundreds of others, actually. Invasion of birders. Hopefully they’ll behave.

Crows, geese, blackbirds, ignored. Gulls. *Sniff.* Ignored.

What is happening here in the birding world? Why are some birds worthy of watching and others not?

What makes a watchable bird, well, watchable? And if one finds a watchable bird, how does one actually go about watching it?

Well in my opinion a watchable bird is any bird actually worthy of being watched. Which, from a watchers point of view could be practically any bird. Chickens even. How many of you have spent time watching chickens? You should try it sometime really, it’s quite refreshing.

Alright, here we are. A watchable bird! The first thing I do after initially spotting such a bird.. (well I supposed it’s the second thing, since, actually, the first thing was spotting the bird) to keep my eyes on this bird. I watch it. Seriously. I watch it with my eyes. (Write this down) Then, if I have the time, I bring my binoculars that have been hanging around my neck by a fancy strap up to my eyes and aim them at the bird. No kidding. Now I’m watching the bird THROUGH my binoculars, ever done this? It’s remarkable! The bird looks ten times closer! And now, the serious watching begins.

*(I don’t mean to imply, however, that watching birds without binoculars is not a serious endeavor, it is, but that is the subject of another post entirely.)

I focus my attention on the overall appearance of the bird. Hmm, this one looks big! What would such a big bird be doing in a tree? I usually try to decided what shape the bird is. Round, long, fat, skinny. I also extract clues from the birds behavior. What’s it doing? Ewww. Sick. Oh well, nevermind. Another important factor that doesn’t involve seeing is listening. Is the bird singing?

Then I begin to look at color pattern. Can I get somewhat of a feel for what this bird is by shape and color pattern? Now is the time, also, to look at the size. Is it little like a chickadee or big like an eagle or something in between? Keep looking at the bird!

So many people take a quick glance a the very cool watchable bird and then start looking at a field guide. DON’T DO THIS. Look at the bird the whole time it’s there!

If the bird is cooperative and is still around, I’ll then look at it’s wings and head for specific field marks. Stripes, bars, crests and the like. I’ll make a mental note of all these things. Sometimes I even say such things out loud. It helps me remember.

AACKK! It flew! My watchable bird example just left. Now what? Turn to your field gui.. nope. Not yet. Get out your note pad. Write down everything you remember about the bird. Do it immediately. I’ll wait. . . . . . . .

. . . . . . . . Done? Ok, good.

NOW we can look at the field guide. If-you-look-at-the-bird-then-look-at-the-field-guide-without-writing-down-what-you-saw-before-you-know-it-your-eyes-will-begin-to-glaze-over-with-all-the-birds-that-look-almost-like-the-one-you-were-looking-at-and-you-won’t-be-able-to-figure-out-what-it-was-because-you-have-forgotten-everything-about-it.

Then you’ll probably think it’s some amazing rarity, when in fact you just invented another species, but no one will believe you.

So I hope you figured out what kind of bird you were watching, and I hope this little guide, technical though it is, will help you in becoming a better watcher of watchable birds.

Blogs mentioned:

Count Your Chicken! We’re Taking Over!

Blobbybirdman’s Peregrinations

Listening Earth Blog

Greg Laden’s Blog

Dream Falcon

Gardening With Binoculars

The Zen Birdfeeder

North Shore Nature

Radley Ice

Stokes Birding Blog

Bird Ecology Study Group

Coyote Mercury

Island Nature

Ben Cruachan-Natural History

The Birder’s Report

Anybody Seen My Focus?

10,000 Birds

Birds O’ The Morning

Wanderin’ Weeta

Exciting Birding in Northern Costa Rica

Search And Serendipity

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6 Responses to How To Watch A Bird – I And The Bird #142

  1. Larry says:

    This is such a refreshing post Connie. I love it. I think so many “birders” bypass more common birds and don’t really take the time to watch, really watch, the birds they see. Personally, the actual observation of bird behavior is the most exciting part of birding for me. Thanks for giving all of us the means to actually consider what we are watching. I would also urge folks to take photos to document the birds you see. It is amazing what I miss while watching birds that I see later in my photos.

  2. Chickens! Oh, yes! Glad you mentioned them. I miss my old flock. Very watchable.

    Great post; thank you!

  3. beth says:

    omg…i was just doing this yesterday, the watching with binoculars part. a puffed up junco wanted some tasty worms but the dish was empty.
    i went out and placed some in the dish, of course he flew off, but goldfinches and bluebirds dove right in. the junco flew to the bluebird feeder and perched on the roof, but could not figure out how to get inside. he cocked his head back and forth several times, but each attempt to enter he feeder was unsuccessful. he’d watch bluebirds and chickadees fly inside and then out. i really felt sorry for the poor little guy…it was cold out!

  4. ctocommando says:

    Connie, Saw a winter robin here in MN. stopped and wrote down everything you talked about. I made noise and it didn’t move. tried binoculars but had trouble focusing the adjustable eyecup. Colors were fantastic, sun angle was great, detail on feathers and feet incredible. Then without warning I began to get a bit restless so I turned the page. oooh a blue bird:)!! I stopped and wrote down everything you talked ab….:) miss you !

  5. Larry, so glad you liked it. Thank you for your encouraging words. Take time to watch the birds I say!

    Susannah, yes, chickens! Love ’em.

    Beth, behavior is always so interesting, even if sad sometimes.

    CraigT! I think of you and your family often. We still miss the possibilities! But God is good all the time. It is good to take time to enjoy His creation. Love you!

  6. dreamfalcon says:

    Great post Connie! And I will try to remember the “if-you-look-at-the-bird…” sentence next time 🙂

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