How can I identify birds at my feeder?
Q: I started bird watching during the pandemic. I love it.
I would like more help on telling which birds I am seeing. Can you help?
— Peggy from Youngstown
A: Watching the birds at my feeders is such a fun and relaxing pastime. Glad you are enjoying it, too.
When my grandchildren are around, I tell them about the birds they see, such as what they eat and where they nest. I occasionally see one I am not familiar with, though.
There are several ways to identify birds. Write down what you notice about the bird or snap a picture. For example, color is the first thing I notice. Then I look at its size — small or large, plump or thin. What does the bill look like with regards to size, shape and color? What does the tail look like? Length of tail and position of tail. What season is it?
Let’s talk about a black-capped chickadee. At 5 inches, it would be considered a small bird with a plump body. It has a short bill and a thin tail. It has a “black cap” and throat with what are considered white cheeks. The sides are a light tan. A friendly bird that moves about busily, black-capped chickadees are generally the first out when I fill the feeders.
The hairy and downy woodpecker both have similar plumages, and the males have a red mark on the back of their heads. The hairy woodpecker is about 9 inches and the downy is 6 inches. This is how I differentiate between the two. The females do not have the red mark, and juveniles are similar to the females.
In May, I always see rose-breasted grosbeaks. This is a handsome bird. It migrates south in early autumn and is a summer-
only resident here. It is 7 to 8 inches and plump. A black-and-white bird, it has a black head and a rose-colored patch on its chest. It has a large, ivory-colored bill. The female looks nothing like the male and resembles a large sparrow. This is when the season you are in and good observance of the bill helps with ID of this female.
There is a medium-sized bird that is gray with a slight blue cast and a white underside. On its head is a gray, pointed crest. Although I know it is a tufted titmouse, the gray, pointed crest and color of the bird are helpful in identifying it originally.
These tips will help you as you get started. As you hone your skills and get more birds to watch, it would be a good idea to get a field guide for Ohio birds to help with identification.
For even more details on building your skills on bird identification, complete with pictures, go to http://go.osu.edu/birdid.
Shively is an Ohio Certified Volunteer Naturalist in Mahoning County. Call 330-533-5538 to submit your questions to the plant clinic. Live clinic hours are 10 a.m. to noon every other Thursday on zoom at go.osu.edu/virtualclinic.