Welcome to the Help Page

If you are feeling lost or overwhelmed, then this page will help you break down the site so you can use it more easily. In the following paragraphs we will cover

   

SEARCHING FOR BIRDS

There are four ways this online field guide allows you to search for birds:

Common Name and Scientific Name: If you know either of these or have a hunch on the name of a bird you’ve seen, this will probably be the most direct way to get to that specific bird’s info page. Simply select either option from the pop-own menu on the toolbar above, and find the birds common or scientific name in the drop down menu on the following page.

Family: If you do not know the specific common or scientific name of a bird, but are sure of its type (duck, sparrow, owl, etc.), then use the link above to search by this method. It will direct you to a page where you can view all members of a family and see if the bird you saw appears on this online field guide.

Habitat: If you are utterly baffled as to what you saw in nature, then this might be a place to start. Here, you can search by either in what type of habitat you saw the bird (wooded area, farm, city, etc.)

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IDENTIFYING CHARACTERISTICS OF BIRDS

There are many things to notice about a bird in nature, from the shape of its beak, to the length of its tail, to to the color of its breast. Below is a pictorial representation of several characteristics that will be useful in your field identification. At the bottom of this section is a topography of a bird with all important field identification parts labeled.

Overall Shape


Is the bird plump like a dove (1), or slender like a catbird (2)?

 

Shape of Wings


Does the birds have rounded wings like a hawk's (1) or pointed wings like a Barn Swallow's (2)?

 

Shape of Bill


Is the bill small and thin, like a Yellow-rumped Warbler's, stout like a House Sparrow's, spear-shaped like a Great Blue Heron's, or hooked like a Sharp-shinned Hawk's?

 

Shape of Tail


Is it deeply forked like a Barn Swallow's (1), square-tipped like a Sharp-Shinned Hawks (2),
rounded like a Blue Jay's (3), or pointed like a Mourning Dove's (4)?

 

Field Marks
(in addition to the physical characteristics listed above, the following are the plumage patterns that will allow you to differentiate species from one another)

Breast Pattern


Is the breast spotted like a European Starling's (1) , streaked like a Song Sparrow's (2),
or plain like a Robin's (3)?

 

 

Tail Patterns


Does the tail have a white-tip, like that of the Red-tailed Hawk (1),
white outer corners, like that of the Eastern Towhee (2),
or have white sides, like that of the Northern Mockingbird (3)?

 

Rump Patches


Does the bird have a rump patch, like the Yellow-rumped Warbler?

 

Eye-stripes

Does the bird have an eye-stripe through the eye, like the American Tree Sparrow (1)?
Does it have a prominent stripe above the eye, like a Song Sparrow (2)?

 

Wing Bars


How prominent are the wing bars? Are they prominent like the American Tree Sparrow's?

 

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USING THE GLOSSARY

You may notice in reading individual bird species’ info pages, you come across words or phrases you are unfamiliar with. If this is the case, these terms will be highlighted, and linked to a glossary page, with a helpful definition.

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TIPS ON BIRD PHOTOGRAPHY
                                                  
Bird photography is a wonderful hobby, and both compilers of this online field guide have had a great time doing it. Listed in this section are several things you may want to consider before embarking on an expedition of your own.

Equipment

Whether you are using a digital or film camera, what we present below are some more general tips that can be applied to either type.

Using your zoom or telephoto lens: One thing to remember about zooming (since you will do it often as most birds are not readily attracted to humans), is that by zooming you increase camera shake, and create a more blurry picture. One way to correct this is to increase your shutter speed. The general rule is that your shutter speed should equal the reciprocal of your zoom. So, if you shooting with a 300 zoom, your shutter speed should be at least 1/300th of a second. Keep in mind, however, that as you increase shutter speed, you decrease the amount of light your lens lets in, so you might have to doubly compensate by either increasing your aperture or film speed.

Tripods: If you have a great area staked out, tripods are invaluable to taking great photographs. You might want to invest in strong, light one, which has a quick release component, in case you need to go chase a bird.

A note on digital cameras: When shooting birds with a digital camera, it is important to keep a few things in mind. The first is that birds are flighty and quick. They will not wait for your camera to turn on, focus, and shoot. So, a camera that can do all those things quickly will be a major advantage. Secondly, if you are working with a point and shoot digital camera, be wary of your digital zoom, since it will produce pictures that are pixilated. Try to use your optical zoom at all times, since field marks on birds are small and subtle, and a digital zoom will smudge those.

Know the Birds

If you’re going to photograph something, it makes sense to know your subject first, and the same is true for birds. Most birds are most active at dawn and dusk, and, if you want photographs of them, you should be too. Conveniently, this is also when the sunlight is most diffused and hence, most beautiful. Obviously birds want to be photographed, so you should do them that favor.

If you’re going after an individual bird, learn where it likes to hang out. If it’s a shore bird, that’s obvious enough, but, if it’s a bird of the woods, find out if it likes to stay in in the interior, or come out to edge. Also, learn what your bird eats. If it visits feeders, consider getting one and filling it with a favorite food. The white-breasted nuthatch, for instance, will visit feeders but mainly for sunflower seeds. Finally, learn your bird's migratory habits. If you’re going after the Dark-Eyed Junco during the summertime in Massachusetts, you’ll be waiting for awhile.

Patience

This cannot be stressed enough. Yes, bird photography is fun and rewarding, but it demands a lot of patience, and you will be frustrated many times over. The only advice we can suggest in this regard is to keep on waking up before dawn and staking out your special spot. And if you don't get any photos, at least be glad that you got to see a bird, even if it was 300 feet away, hiding behind every leaf and pine needle imaginable, and entirely silhouetted.

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