Friday, November 26, 2010

#26 Field Tip: Magazines make for Good Reading

There are many wonderful magazines about birds and birding such as Bird Watcher’s Digest, Birder’s World, Wild Bird, as well as Audubon, Birding and Living Bird, the latter 3 member publications.

Subscribing to any of these provides you with a wealth of information about identification, travel destinations, local hotspots, optical equipment, events and conservation issues. These magazines feature extraordinary photographs and thought provoking articles.

Friday, November 19, 2010

#25 Identification Tip: House and Purple Finches

Two species that can often cause identification problems at your bird feeders are the ubiquitous House Finch, and the less common Purple Finch. Size wise they are similar, though a Purple Finch may look a little bulkier.

Start by learning the expected species - in this case, for most of us, it would be the House Finch. Female House Finches (above) are a gray-brown color above with blurry streaks on the breast and underparts, that are about the same color as the birds back. It always reminds me of being an overall dingy color.

By contrast the female Purple Finches in the east (above) are browner and have a bold white supercillium and white whisker or malar. The streaks on the breast tend to be bolder, and stand out against a white underbelly. The similar looking female House Finch lacks the supercillium and is rarely white below, and overall lacks the contrast that female Purple Finches show.

The male House Finch (above) with its streaking resembles the female House Finch, but has a red or red-orange head and chest, usually brightest on the forehead. You will also notice on this bird that the undertail is streak - a characteristic of House Finches, and which is unmarked in Purple Finches.

Though this illustration of a male Purple Finch (above) may not be the best, it does clearly show some of the differences between the two species. The color has more of a raspberry tone which can also is found on its back. The underbelly is unstreaked, and as with the female, the auriculars behind the eye are dark and contrast with the rest of the head. One other point worth mentioning is that the tip of the tail on a Purple Finch is distinctively notched (V-shaped), whereas on a House Finch it is only slightly notched.
all photos © adrian binns

Friday, November 12, 2010

#24 Field Tip: Searching for Sparrows

Autumn provides some of the best opportunities to search for sparrows. The birds tend to congregate in mixed flocks, making it easier to locate their presence. Check weedy fields by walking slowly and quietly, holding binoculars close to your chin.

Sparrows will often pop-up briefly before dropping back down out of sight. You'll need to react rapidly to bring the binoculars to your eyes, if you want to get a good enough look for identification before the birds disappear.

It takes practice to be able to I.D. sparrows, as many of them look superficially similar. To start, check bill color, breast markings (streaked or not-streaked), and head patterns. Eventually you'll learn to narrow-down the choices based on various field marks. Don't give up, as sparrows can be wonderfully challenging in Autumn and early Winter!
photo © adrian binns

Friday, November 5, 2010

#23 Backyard Tip: Baffled by Squirrels

I am often asked “What can I do about the squirrels on my feeders? They eat the seed that is for the birds and gnaw holes in the feeders.

The best way to keep them off your feeders is to make sure that you install a baffle on the pole and keep your feeders at least 10 feet away from anything that a squirrel can jump from. This includes other structures, feeders, trees and shrubs. Note in the photo, that the bird bath that a squirrel is in is places well away from the feeder.

There are two types of baffles - round, like a saucer, and cylindrical, like a tube (shown in the photo) - and both are effective. The idea is to mount the baffle below the feeder thereby prohibiting the squirrel from gripping and climbing over it.
photo © adrian binns