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.



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  • I am excited to have my daughter’s tree this year, since my landlord has removed the lovely yew next to my patio, which was the only shelter for birds at my feeder.
    by pmalcpoet, Mon, 20 Dec 2021
  • Goldfinches will continue as long as Swiss chard is available. I'm watching one eating chard right now (mid-November in Vermont).
    by Brian Tremback, Sun, 14 Nov 2021
  • Birds are on the decline though sunflowers are rarely touched and for weeks hardly .eaten. I'll try a few sparing nuts on the table and a fat ball broken for jackdaws and tits but mealworms were a summer favourite being my go to choice
    by Paul Harabaras, Thu, 04 Nov 2021
  • I’ve been enjoying goldfinches eating coneflower/ echinacea seeds in my new pollinator garden! I will leave the plants out all winter for them if the seeds keep that long? Or should I deadhead and put them in a dry area? Im in CT and thought they migrated, but didn’t know they put in winter coats! What do they eat in winter without bird feeders?
    by Anne Sheffield, Sat, 04 Sep 2021
  • Hi Gary, I will pass your question along to Birdsquatch next time I see him. He knows infinitely more about nocturnal wildlife than I do. Where do you live? That's pretty important in figuring out the answer. But the thief could be raccoons, deer, or flying squirrels. Do you live in the woods? Are there trees near your feeder, or must the culprit climb a shepherd's hook or pole? Dawn Hewitt, Watching Backyard Birds
    by Dawn Hewitt, Mon, 30 Aug 2021