How to Identify Pictures of Birds in California

Save

One way to familiarize yourself with common bird species in a state like California is to explore a comprehensive, illustrated bird guide of relevant focus. Learning how to focus in on diagnostic features in a photograph or painting -- which, conveniently, doesn't decide to flit away at the last second -- will come in real handy out in the countryside, when a real, flesh-and-blood bird catches your eye and your imagination both.

Things You'll Need

  • Field guide or online illustrated birding reference
  • Look at the bird's color. Some field guides are organized by hue, not taxonomic affiliation, to match the search function of the practical birder. Keep in mind that many birds molt prior to breeding season to adopt flashier colors; these are often the uniforms in which they are presented in a book, but may not correspond with a bird in the field, depending on season (see Reference 1). Many more comprehensive guides will include both breeding and non-breeding plumages. Feathers change, too, as a bird ages: It will take much study of a detailed reference, such as "The Sibley Guide to Birds" (2000), to sort out the identities of gulls along California's long coast; the juveniles of many species undergo a series of subtle but fundamental pattern shifts as they mature.

  • Look for major identifying characteristics. In addition to color, these might include plumage pattern, bill size and shape, body size, wingspan and wing shape. Many field guides will emphasize these: the crest of a Phainopepla, a musical bird of central and southern California scrub; the white on the upper wingtips of a south polar skua of the open ocean, an infrequent visitor to the shore; or the dark scimitar wings of the black swift, a ghost in a remote mountain forest. (see Reference 2)

  • Begin matching pictures with family and genus, beyond common and/or Latin name. If you can start recognizing kinship between close relatives, you'll be a more formidable birder. An unusual sighting might quickly be identified if you know among which species to browse. For example, California's thrushes are compact-bodied, big-beaked and proportionately long-legged, and their tails are stiff and alert. The state's flycatchers are tiny, with relatively broad bases to their beaks and subtle head crests.

Tips & Warnings

  • While printed field guides are the traditional, long-valued resource, the Internet now hosts many sites with splendid ornithological pictures and diagnostic tips. Seek out a reputable Web site covering California's birds, like those included in "Resources," and explore. There's no substitute for getting out into the field. Paintings and photographs typically illustrate the "ideal" bird, perfectly illuminated, replete with all the standard characteristics of its breed, enviably cooperative. After a primer on bird ID from a book or Web site, you need to glass backyard bushes and hit neighborhood trails to get a sense of what these creatures look like in the flesh.

References

  • "Ornithology," Frank B. Gill, 1995.
  • "The SIbley Guide to Birds," David Allen Sibley, 2000.
Promoted By Zergnet

Comments

Resources

You May Also Like

  • Northern California Bird Field Guide

    Birds that live in Northern California include golden drowned kinglets, mountain chickadees, cedar waxwings, California quail and the California towhee. While all...

  • California Hummingbird Identification

    California is a beautiful state to visit not only for its beaches but also for its variety of wildlife, including many majestic...

  • Southern California Bird Identification

    Over 555 different native birds inhabit Southern California. Identifying them requires a knowledge of their habitats, appearance and song. Bird watchers or...

  • How to Take Pictures of Birds

    Getting good pictures of birds requires much more than a quality camera and photography skills. It requires an understanding of bird behavior...

  • Pictures and Types of Birds

    Like mammals, not all birds fit into one category. The birds that greet you in the morning with a cheerful melody are...

  • Types of Wild Birds in Santa Monica, California

    Santa Monica, California, lies just 15 miles west of Los Angeles, yet the seaside city’s diverse ecosystems support more than 5,000 plant...

  • A List of Flightless Birds

    Birds are two-legged, warm-blooded, egg-laying animals that have backbones and feathers, but not all birds can fly. Some are too large and...

  • List of the California Missions

    One of the best ways to get a glimpse of California history is to visit the state's missions, which reflect the Spanish...

  • Finches of California

    The finch family has significant representation in California, with various species of this bird occurring in the state. Some of the finches...

Related Searches

Check It Out

How to Build and Grow a Salad Garden On Your Balcony

M
Is DIY in your DNA? Become part of our maker community.
Submit Your Work!