Aug 14, 2013 | Featured Web Article

Getting the Most Out of Your Field Guide

Field guides are an indespensable part of birding!
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Putting names on birds can always be challenging, but it seems to be especially so during late summer and fall, when juvenile birds and non-breeding plumages shake things up a bit. As you consult your favorite field guide this season, keep these tips in mind:

Keep looking! A lot of people find a bird in the book that looks like the one in the bush and quit on the spot. They don't realize until much later that there's another bird, two pages later in the guide, that looks even more like the one they saw. Make sure you consider all the possibilities.

Don't cram the bird into the picture! Well, the bird you saw looks a lot like the one on page 235 of the field guide, except you didn't see the big white patch on the wings. Oh well, you may think, you probably just overlooked it. Sorry, that won't hold up in court. It's likely you're just looking at the wrong bird in the field guide.

Look at the map! You may not know which birds are supposed to be in your backyard and which ones are found only on the other side of the continent (or which ones only visit your area during a certain season of the year). That's why field guides have range maps. Isn't that brilliant? What's not clear is why so many people never look at them. Maybe it's the same unexplained phenomenon as why men never want to stop the car to ask directions.

What do you think? Tell us!

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  • I have experienced this when a house wren punctured 5 blue bird eggs last spring in our blue bird box. Then I hung out a wren box by the trees and he got busy filling it and left the bluebirds alone and they successfully raised another brood!
    by Susan, Sun, 07 Apr 2019
  • I also have several turkeys that live in the woods behind me. They visit early morning and near sundown. Living in the country with a mountain and brook behind my house, I have animals visiting 24hrs a day. My turkeys are awesome. They know me and wait for their breakfast. They hop up on my patio wall to look in my windows. I also noticed the 2 birds that are the lookouts. They come over to eat as the others march across my lawn to my neighbor who also feeds the animals. We also have coyotes that, I am sure, have eaten turkey dinner. The squirrels run around and chase them to protect their seeds and cracked corn. I feed my 3 raccoons peanut butter jelly sandwiches, which they share with a possum and 3 skunks, at the same time, by the way. No food goes into my garbage. Meat scraps go to crows and hawks. Everything else, even soup, gets eaten before the sun is completely set. That keeps bears away if no dishes are there to entice. I break up bread in tiny pieces now and turkeys 'gobble' it up. So happy to find another person that enjoys wildlife. Nothing is more satisfying than walking out side and spotting Daisy the skunk, calling her name and watching her tripping all over herself, running to meet you. Thank you for your valuable information.
    by Stella Kachur, Wed, 27 Mar 2019
  • This is exactly my experience. The local feed store had some on sale so I thought I'd try some. Actually I was shocked at how it is avoided, and I've been feeding birds for more than 40 years. I suppose I've never had it out as the ONLY food source, but when I put it out along with the blackoil, peanuts, cracked corn and suet cakes, absolutely nothing would touch it. Even when I dumped some on the ground the rabbits wouldn't eat it, nor would the squirrels. Eventually some turkeys and deer ate some--when they could find nothing else underneath the other feeders. But even they left plenty on the ground which they NEVER do with cracked corn, sunflower, etc.Every person should try some if they're inclined and decide for themselves since every situation may be a bit different, but for me/my species, safflower is a big no.
    by Colin Croft, Sun, 03 Mar 2019
  • I have questions about the Zick Dough? It says not to use in cold weather. It is still in the 40s here. Too soon? How long should I expect a supply to last? And, use a tray feeder? Thanks.
    by martindf, Sun, 25 Nov 2018
  • Glad I found this. I'm a snowbird and was worried about all the birds that come to feed at my birdfeeder. I have Cardinals, sparrows, doves, Blue Jays, chickadees. I hope they'll find food elsewhere while I'm gone.
    by Donna, Sat, 03 Nov 2018