Jim Williams has been watching birds and writing about their antics since before "Gilligan's Island" went into reruns. Join him for his unique insights, his everyday adventures and an open conversation about the birds in your back yard and beyond.

Posts about Bird identification

Teddy Roosevelt's White House bird list

Posted by: Jim Williams Updated: February 23, 2015 - 3:39 PM

Canada choosing national bird

Posted by: Jim Williams Updated: February 8, 2015 - 2:29 PM

Canada doesn't have a national bird, and it wants one.

Until 2017, citizens of that country can vote for one of 40 nominees chosen by "Canadian Geographic," the magazine of the Royal Canadian Geographical Society. Other candidates can be suggested. 

On the National Bird Project website (www.canadiangeographic.ca is an essay encouraging people to skip the obvious species, like Common Loon, Snowy Owl, and Canada Goose, and vote for an "underbird." The list contains some good candidates in that category.

Black-backed Woodpecker is an example. You'd think Canadians would want to vote for a bird they have a reasonable chance of seeing. Ditto Spruce Grouse. Common Murre is another, perhaps good for observant coastal Canadians, but less so for inlanders. Glaucous Gull is a candidate, interesting in that gulls hardly ever get much respect, all of them seen by most folks as "seagulls." 

There are 12 songbird candidates, three gamebirds, three woodpeckers, one hummingbird, four species found on water, plus Belted Kingfisher, the gull, the Arctic Tern, plus Great Blue Heron, Whooping Crane, and Sandhill Crane. Semipalmated Sandpiper is on the list. It would require explanation of semipalmated. There are nine raptors, including Snowy, Great Gray, and Northern Saw-whet owls. 

My choices would be Canada Warbler, too obvious perhaps, but a beauty, Arctic Tern, or Great Gray Owl.

The owl suits the country -- quiet, dignified, with a no-nonsense approach to life. Another candidate, the Common Raven, shares those qualities, plus strictly minds its own business.

Early returns show Common Loon far ahead with 6,242 votes. Snowy Owl has 4,678, and Canada Jay 3,732.

Underbirds are not doing well so far. Glaucous Gull has 11 votes, the sandpiper 20, Common Murre 16, the woodpecker 23, and Harris's Sparrow 16. All seem longshots.

Here is one of the birds unlikely to be chosen, the Glaucous Gull.

Bird ID in "3D" on iPad or iPhone

Posted by: Jim Williams Updated: January 19, 2015 - 1:36 PM

First there were the little arrows used by Roger Tory Peterson in his classic and important birding guide book. The arrows marked  important identification clues for the bird you were watching. 


Then, identification books with photos. Then, better artwork. Today, many books, each seeking to catch your eye and help you find a way to name that bird.


Now, technology has gone one step farther. Or two or three.


Princeton University Press has released a bird-identification app for iPhone and iPad. It replicates in electronic form the recently published book “The Warbler Guide” by Tom Stephenson and Scott Wittle.


It also animates the book, and gives it sound.


The app offers what Princeton calls 3D images. You place fingers on an image of the bird and rotate. You can see the bird from any angle — up, down, profile, three-quarter view, whatever meets your needs. It’s sort of magical, simple and familiar if you are savvy about these devices, a frequent user, but certainly novel when it comes to birds.


There are photos (not all in 3D, but photos from several angles) of male, female, and juvenile plumages. You can view similar species as you view your target bird, make comparisons quickly, on one page. There are photos to help you age and sex the bird. There is text to explain similarities and differences. 


There is a clever overview page that shows the bird in silhouette, drawings offering a summary of color pattern, including under-tail view, a map showing broad distribution of the species, and even an image of a tree and bush colored to tell you what part of that vegetation the bird can be expected to use (lower portion of tree, middle, top).


There are excellent range maps, large and well-colored.


And songs? Vocalizations? For the American Redstart, for instance, there are nine offerings: chip call, flight call, and seven types of song. Songs of all North American warbler species are on the same scrolling page, arranged alphabetically, so if you want to make voice comparisons it is easy to do. The app describes the song as buzzy, clear, trilled, or a variation of those choices. Pitch trend — up or down — is shown.


If you would describe the song as having, for example, three sections, click on “three” under the choice “song sections” and all calls having three sections appear alphabetical by species.


You can arrange all of this information by color groups, alphabetical, or in taxonomic order.


The app costs $12.99. The price is less than almost any ID book, and offers much more for your money. Purchase is made at the Apple Store.


A consideration would be convenient use of either the iPhone or iPad as you seek ID help. At home or in the car? No problem. In the field, certainly more convenient with the phone, although the size of the images could be an issue (it would be an issue for me). My purchase was for the iPad version. Will I take the iPad into the field? We’ll see.


Regardless, this is an amazing collection of identification information for our warbler family. If anyone else wants to do this, to publish what they might consider an improvement, they will have to work very, very hard.


Everything you might want to know can be found at https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLG9b0fRtVfA3e1R74BozvgK7x3corNuqx


Below, an image from one of the app's pages. Photos at the bottom illustrate species that might be helpful for comparison. Image is to size for the iPad.


Last-minute shopper?

Posted by: Jim Williams Updated: December 19, 2014 - 11:18 AM

Holiday gift ideas from birding consultant Paul Baicich, an experienced birder and educator (with over 800 species on his North American life list):

Shade-grown Coffee — This is a wonderful gift, ideal to bring along to a holiday party. It should start up a conversation about shade-coffee vs. sun-coffee and the ways that certified arabica shade coffee helps sustain our Neotropical migrants in coffee country throughout much of Latin America and the Caribbean.  

Migratory Bird Hunting and Conservation Stamp — The "Duck Stamp" is a fine gift, and a great conservation-supporting item. Since almost all the funds collected from the stamp go to building wetland and grassland habitat in the National Wildlife Refuge System, it sends a great message, too. Besides, you will probably be at the Post Office anyhow, so picking up a $15-stamp or two should be easy. You can also download a free and unique stamp-related certificate describing just how much one stamp secures in habitat, attach the stamp, put it in a frame, and you're set! 

Bird Art — Speaking of frames, how about some bird art? No, not an original piece of expensive artwork, but a quality print. Whether your recipient favors waterfowl, gamebirds, raptors, shorebirds, hummingbirds, orioles, or warblers, the options are vast. Just search online! 

Bird t-shirt — Yes, lovely bird t-shirts are often perfect gifts. In fact, you can combine the previous two suggestions — the "Duck Stamp" and bird art — in one t-shirt purchase. Buy a t-shirt with a Duck Stamp design on it! You can find one here: http://www.friendsofthestamp.org

Bird Feeder - Few backyards are so full of bird feeders that another one 
wouldn't help. Another tube feeder? A suet feeder? A hopper feeder? 

Bird Seed — And there should be quality feed to fill those feeders. A large bag or two of high-quality bird seed can go a long way. Think especially about getting black-oil sunflower or Nyjer. 

Window Protection — Birdseed and feeders are great gifts, but they can also attract birds to potentially dangerous windows, a situation with creates unfortunate collisions. Short of retrofitting entire windows, some outdoor hanging bird-screens or large "one-way-view" stickers or films can alleviate the situation. These are fine gifts for the season. 

Catio — Also in the realm of backyard bird protection, there is the opportunity to address the issue of outdoor cats. There are an estimated 84 million pet cats in the U.S., and perhaps 36 million of them are let outside to roam. This is deadly for our wild birds. Now cat owners who wish to allow their cats outdoors have a bird-safe alternative. These are called a "catios," and they come in a variety of configurations available in various sizes and finishes. Check out these two sources for catio ideas: Catio Spaces and Catio Showcase.

Optics Gear — No, it doesn't necessarily have to be new binoculars, but it could be associated optic gear. How about a new binocular strap-harness? A traveling case? A quality cleaning kit? 

Field Guide — There are so many excellent field guides out today that it may be hard to choose. But pick one that fits the individual recipient. For kids? Try a Thompson guide. Otherwise, you might consider a National Geographic, a Kaufman, a Sibley, a Crossley, a Stokes, or even a classic and ever-reliable Peterson. They all have their own individual advantages. 

American-grown Rice — A festively-wrapped bag of fine American-grown rice is another great gift that sends a message about habitat for our wetland-associated birds (waterfowl, shorebirds, long-legged waders, and more). No other mass-produced U.S. crop can claim to have such benefits for our birds. 

Gift Membership or Subscription — There are a number of bird, nature, and conservation organizations or magazines that offer special annual gift memberships or subscriptions at this time of year. This is sometimes an ideal quick solution to your shopping problems, and the recipient is often contacted directly about your thoughtful gift. 

This app identifies birds by song

Posted by: Jim Williams Updated: December 10, 2014 - 6:12 PM

BirdGenieTM is an app that enables anyone with an Apple® or Android® smartphone or tablet

to identify birds by recording songs. Hold up the phone, record the bird singing, and BirdGenie

will tell you what bird it is. 


There are separate apps for eastern and western regions of the U.S. Each regional app contains

80 vocalization types for 60 bird species. 


A clear recording with your smartphone or tablet is necessary. BirdGenie identifies the bird if it

is an included species, and tells you how confident it is that the identification is correct.


The app also provides audio samples of the bird’s various songs to compare with your own recording,

as well as color photos, basic information, and reading links.


The app, from Princeton University Press, will cost $2.99, and is to be available in the spring. No internet connection is needed to use it.


Technical requirements: iOS 6.0 or later. Compatible with iPhone 4/5/6, iPad, iPad Mini, and iPod Touch.

Android 4.0 and above. Compatible with most common Android phones and tablets.




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