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Getting Started in Birdwatching: Learn Your Top Ten

My hometown's top bird, according to Merlin. © Richard Hammer, used by permission.

As a toddler, I learned from my “The Farmer Says” wheel that the cow says moo, the sheep says baa, and the bird says tweet. That’s all well and good at a base level, but then I started actually listening to birds and life got a lot more complex.

 

If you’re wanting to get started in birdwatching, the Fisher-Price See n’ Say will only get you so far. But how do you go from “the bird says tweet” to “That’s a second-winter Glaucous-winged Gull”? If you’ve recently experienced an evolution from “I sometimes look at birds” to “I think I might be a birdwatcher,” I'll offer a few simple (and I truly mean simple) next steps for establishing your hobby. Today's tip:

 

TIP 1: Learn your Top Ten.


There are ten thousand different species of birds out there, and all those possibilities can be just a tad overwhelming, like my teen daughter deciding on a fragrance at Bath and Body Works. But let’s narrow the field. Wherever it is that you call home, there’s a flora and fauna that’s unique to your geography. The bird life around you is comprised of some year-round residents, some partial-year renters, and some accidental tourists. And the best way to tackle that avian trail mix isn’t by reading a field guide cover-to-cover (your zeal will give way to despair somewhere in the sandpiper pages).  

 

My recommendation? Get to know your ten most reliable neighbors: your Top Ten.

 

Unless you live on my street, I can’t tell you who your neighbors are, but I know someone who can, and his name is Merlin. The Merlin Bird ID app from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology can generate for you a top 10 list of the most common birds in the place you’re sitting at this very moment (or anywhere else, for that matter). Here’s how you do it.


1) SET UP THE APP

Download the Merlin Bird ID app on your phone or tablet. The first time you use the app, it will likely suggest that you download a “bird pack” for your region (for example, “US: Southwest” or "Bolivia: Southern Lowlands"). If not, you can do this in the settings. You can download multiple packs — very helpful if you're planning a trip and wanting to use Merlin while you're there.




2) EXPLORE

From the main screen, click the Explore option at the bottom of the screen. You'll then see a colorful list of every potential bird from your bird pack, which will be an impressively long list unless you live somewhere very unbirdy (in which case, might I suggest a different hobby?). But you can narrow things down easily by clicking the refine search icon in the top right. It looks like three slider switches:






3) REFINE FOR LIKELY BIRDS

You can do plenty with the refine tools, but for the purposes of our Top Ten list, change your filters in these three spots.

  • Select “Likely birds” (instead of “All installed birds”).

  • Select your location.

  • For "Sort by" select "Most Likely."

This will narrow your list and put the most common birds at the top. Hit the green “Show (##) birds” button to see those results.


Of course, the possibilities here are endless. Want to learn the likely species for Texas in May? Scandinavia in January? With the right pack, and the desired location and date, you can create some amazing lists.






4) IDENTIFY YOUR TOP TEN

Count off or screenshot those first ten. Your Top Ten list will change throughout the seasons of your year (in December in North Carolina, the White-throated Sparrow moves from 106th to 5th, to absolutely no one’s surprise). But go ahead and start with the list in front of you, head outside, and start watching for those birds. You can click on each bird for more info, photos, range maps, and sounds, and you can discover even more at allaboutbirds.org.

 

And now, all you have to do is learn your Top Ten. In future posts I’ll suggest some ways to do that, by both sight and sound, but the benefit of knowing the regular visitors to your yard or patch is that when something new arrives, you’ll actually notice it as something new. When you establish a familiarity with what’s normal, you’ll find that a new bird will more readily get your attention; the next thing you know, you’ll be adding your 11th, 12th, and 85th birds to your list.

 

Go ahead, identify your Top Ten. And if you want, share your ten in the comments below, especially if you live someplace awesome.

 

 

THE ORNITHEOLOGY PERSPECTIVE:

As a pastor, I encourage the same sort of intentionality in a “love thy neighbor” capacity of the human variety. Although Jesus defined everyone as a neighbor (Luke 10:25-37), we’re quick to overlook the people who actually live right next to us. Loving your neighbor includes loving your actual neighbor, and loving starts with knowing... and knowing starts with a name. How many of the people in the ten houses closest to you do you know by name? While you’re learning your backyard birds, I’d encourage you to spend some time in the front yard too, increasing your chances of a human sighting. Be prayerful and ready for where the Lord takes things from there… but start simple, with a name.

8 תגובות


Rick Reumann
Rick Reumann
09 ביולי

Palm Harbor, FL


Northern Cardinal

Great Egret

Mourning Dove

White Ibis

Laughing Gull

Red Bellied Woodpecker

Little Blue Heron

Red Winged Blackbird

Northern Mockingbird

Osprey


לייק
Kevin Burrell
Kevin Burrell
5 days ago
בתשובה לפוסט של

When I lived in Orlando, the ibis were all over my front yard every morning. Surreal!

לייק

Kelly S.
Kelly S.
06 ביולי

I'm in south Arkansas. Here are my top 10:

American Crow Northern Cardinal Mourning Dove Carolina Wren White-eyed Vireo Indigo Bunting Northern Mockingbird Blue Jay Summer Tanager Yellow-breasted Chat

לייק
Kevin Burrell
Kevin Burrell
5 days ago
בתשובה לפוסט של

The vireo and chat are here too, but not nearly so numerous as to make a top ten. Interesting!

לייק

Kassie Woo
Kassie Woo
02 ביולי

Thank you so much for this information!! This app is incredible! I've always been an avid "bird observer" but never could easily identify ones I didn't know. I can't wait to dive deeper into this!


Birmingham, AL!

Northern Cardinal

Eastern Towhee

Downy Woodpecker

Carolina Chickadee

Carolina Wren

Tufted Titmouse

House Finch (had a nest of these - finally identified! :)

Brown Thrasher

Blue Jay

Red-Bellied Woodpecker

לייק
Kevin Burrell
Kevin Burrell
5 days ago
בתשובה לפוסט של

The Merlin app does so much more; this is just one easy feature a lot of people don't use. Glad you like it!

לייק

Down in central FL near a lake! Top 10:


Northern Cardinal

Mourning Dove

Red-bellied Woodpecker

White Ibis

Northern Mockingbird

Blue Jay

Osprey

Common Gallinule

Red-winged Blackbird

Boat-tailed Grackle

לייק
Kevin Burrell
Kevin Burrell
5 days ago
בתשובה לפוסט של

This list reminds me of my years living in Orlando. Thanks for sharing!

לייק
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