How do I birb?
September 22, 2015 9:52 AM   Subscribe

I am becoming a bird nerd, and am looking for ways to learn more! But there is SO MUCH, please help me find some good resources.

Please tell me about good birding apps! I already use Merlin Bird ID, and plan on spending some time with the Master Birder apps to get better acquainted with bird calls.

I picked up a small scope, and I have a few small guides (mostly for when I canoe on the river), but it is time to learn more. I don't even know where to begin! I'd love recommendations for books and apps (and podcasts and WHATEVER else is good). I already use and love the BirdCast website, and Merlin Bird ID.

The question comes on the heels of seeing a hairy woodpecker in a city park in Chicago, which I found because of its call (sounds slightly like a Cardinal, sort of!). Now that it's migration time, I am ready to up my game.

Thank you in advance for your help!
posted by bibliogrrl to Science & Nature (14 answers total) 27 users marked this as a favorite
I got into it mostly offline. I have an Audubon field guide that's helpful, and the Department of Natural Resources in my state used to have a CD of common bird songs, which helped me very much. The accompanying booklet had some helpful information and photos, and the list of common birds in my area helped me narrow down my identification (if a bird seemed like it could be either X or Y in the field guide, but X was listed on the CD and Y wasn't, I could assume that the bird was X). Two websites that I've used a bit are from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, and Best of luck!
posted by kevinbelt at 10:22 AM on September 22, 2015 [1 favorite]

I am an active birder. I live in Central Florida, where we get lots of species coming through on migratory paths. The only way to really learn is to start identifying birds on your own, and as you do it, your knowledge will grow. To identify birds, you need a good book or app.

For me, the best birding app out there is: iBird PRO. The app is a little expensive, I think like $12. But it is so easy to use, and its search features really can not be beat. Honestly, I have invested money in different books and apps over the years, and this is the best.

This app allows you to plug in lots of different info you have, and then it gives you a list of possible birds, with pictures. For example, dominant color is white, black bill, under 2ft tall, seen in Florida, in Sept - and it will list all possible matches, including females and juveniles who may have different features. With the pictures for each possible match, it is pretty easy to figure out almost any bird. And with the app on your cell phone, you can make the identification right there on the scene.
posted by Flood at 10:22 AM on September 22, 2015 [1 favorite]

iBird pro is really worth it. You can also "fave" birds which is a nice and informal way of keeping a list. I am a pretty low-key birder but I love being able to play the sings and start to get good at recognizing birds by sound as well as by sight.
posted by jessamyn at 10:43 AM on September 22, 2015

I'm not really a birder and haven't used iBird Pro, but I have the Audubon and Peterson bird apps on my phone and it is very handy when you see an unknown bird to be able to look it up, on the spot, while you can still check the bird against the details in the guide. The apps provide advantages over books because they can include content such as audio recordings of the birds' calls and, if organized well, can be slightly easier to search (though a well-indexed guide comes pretty close.)

Right now there are a couple of varied thrushes and several golden-crowned kinglets feeding in the tree outside my window -- the thrushes on berries and I am hoping the kinglets are reducing our local spider population.. The thrushes better not eat all the berries, though, because I count on that particular tree to attract flocks of waxwings later in the season.
posted by Nerd of the North at 10:46 AM on September 22, 2015

The best way to bird nerd is to do it with other people. I have Sibleys and I have iBirdPro and binos and a scope and the one thing that teaches me more than all those put together (again and again and again) is birding with people who know more than I do. So look up your local Audubon and start going on walks and field trips!
posted by rtha at 10:50 AM on September 22, 2015 [10 favorites]

Re: apps, I like iBird Pro the best by far. iNaturalist is a nice app that lets you keep track of your sightings and compare with others. I also really like Larkwire for learning bird songs.

Check and see whether your library (or a nearby academic library which offers community access) subscribes to the Birds of North America database. This is by far my favorite resource for learning about bird behavior, ecology, and natural history.

Spending time with other birders is definitely the best way to learn, and I bet there are lots of people near you who do regular walks in known birding spots. If you prefer something a little more structured, especially starting out, one neat way to learn more birds and get to hang out with birders is to participate in a designated bird count day, like the Christmas Bird Count or the Great Backyard Bird Count. You'll get to work with experienced birders and hone your observation skills, and besides, it's fun to contribute.

Finally, consider being a rad citizen scientist and submitting your sightings to eBird, which is increasingly used by ecologists and ornithologists to track bird abundances, migrations, and distributions.
posted by dialetheia at 11:00 AM on September 22, 2015 [1 favorite]

Come to New York and hit the bronx zoo. Srsly, you haven't lived until you've heard the call of the Montezuma Oropendula. It's insane. Bonus: the bird house is designed in such a way that there's no glass or wires or anything between you and the birds.
posted by sexyrobot at 11:00 AM on September 22, 2015

I've found that localized guides are very helpful to me. I don't care if there's a really similar bird that lives somewhere else; I'm curious what it is that I'm seeing here, where I live. Stan Tekiela's "Birds Of..." series has been great; it's organized by color (flip to the blue section to ID a bird that has prominent blue markings). I can't vouch for your region's Birds Of... book, but mine has been invaluable.

(Also, yes, iBird Pro is worth the money. It can be a little overwhelming, though. Tekiela's books only contain birds that you might actually encounter and doesn't waste breath on Rare Birds of Upper Central Lower Alabama or whatever.)
posted by workerant at 11:14 AM on September 22, 2015

I would suggest a copy of Sibley's Birding Basics. You're absolutely right that there's a ton of info to learn and categorize, and the basics are an important framework on which to hang all those tidbits. Basics on gross anatomy, intro to songs, intro to markings, that sort of thing. I received it as a gift, and was really grateful to have read it by the time I started getting serious, because it made it more clear to me what info I wanted to retain and what was superfluous.
posted by Gilbert at 11:26 AM on September 22, 2015 [1 favorite]

I third rtha's and dialethia's suggestion of hanging out with other birders. You might want to check out Chicago Audubon's field trips. I had plateaued in my skills and knowledge until I started going birding with a local group. For me, I find it extremely helpful when learning, say, the minutiae of warbler identification, if I can see how other birders go about the identification process for particular species.
posted by mollweide at 11:39 AM on September 22, 2015

A thing it was really fun for me was getting involved in the local Christmas Bird Count. This is where a bunch of people all go out on one day sort of in December and try to see what birds are actually in their area in the winter. Doesn't happen everywhere you have to kind of have a local volunteer to spearhead it. But I felt like talking other people who were serious birders and in my area was a really useful way to know what was around where I live
posted by jessamyn at 11:40 AM on September 22, 2015

In addition to rtha's suggestion of local bird walks, which is excellent, one of the things that we did is take an ornithology class at our local community college. City College here in San Francisco has one of the best birders on the West Coast teaching 3 classes every semester and they are an amazing resource. I learned so much from them (although I still can't tell my immature gulls apart.) Short of visiting SF, there may be classes at a local community college that would be worth taking.
posted by gingerbeer at 11:50 AM on September 22, 2015

Depending on how much time you've got to dedicate, consider joining Chicago Bird Collision Monitors (CBCM)! Thousands of migratory birds come through downtown Chicago and crash into windows each spring and fall, and we're there to scoop them up off the sidewalks and whisk them away to rehab or the Field Museum. It's pretty awesome. (It = CBCM, not birds getting hurt/killed.) I'm fairly certain I'll never develop the patience for "real" birding now, because catching a few short glimpses of a bird through a scope is a meager payoff compared to the thrill of holding one in your hand. Just so far this fall, I've found cuckoos, thrushes, a rainbow of warblers, a Sora, a Virginia Rail, and we're only now getting into the sparrows and woodpeckers. Last spring, one of my fellow monitors hit the jackpot and picked up a live Northern Saw-Whet Owl in the West Loop.

There are a couple more training sessions left this season, which are really interesting and informative even if you don't think you can become a volunteer. Also feel free to MeMail me with any questions!
posted by gueneverey at 2:26 PM on September 22, 2015 [2 favorites]

Bird walks are a fantastic way to learn more about your area! I've done them through wildlife festivals, local parks, and some wildlife rehab centers run them as fundraisers. I also love iBird Pro, but still pick up local guides when I travel. If you are ever in a park or wildlife refuge find the visitor center and ask if they have a site bird list pamphlet, and if they seem interested ask is there's any rare species around. I've had amazing luck meeting excited rangers that will pull out maps to help me find new species.
posted by lepus at 3:22 PM on September 22, 2015

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