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Make Notes

In this section I will show you some of the birds you are most likely to find visiting your garden or feeder. You will be amazed at the variety of colour and shape just outside your window.Get yourself a small notebook and pen to keep near the window that looks onto the feeding area. It is far easier and quicker to write down a quick note on your mystery visitor than to go searching through a bird book trying to find it. Usually the bird will have flown away before you get anyway close to finding something that looks like "your" bird.

Remember that different light conditions will change the appearance and colour of a bird. Also if they are wet from rain or washing they will change in appearance. Temperature will also affect their looks. In cold weather birds often puff out their feathers to trap air and keep warm so making them look much bigger than usual. In warm weather the feathers are flattened so making the same bird look much smaller.

The important features to watch out for are...

Size, shape and colour
Closeup of wings and tail
Closeup of wings and tail
Judge this against something like the width of the mesh feeder or the pole of the bird table. Are there any striking features of colour and/or shape? Look at the size, shape and colour of the beak, wings and tail. The wings on this bird are relatively short and the tail is clearly forked or notched. Beware of colour difference between males, females and young birds. As a general rule for most garden birds the males are the brightest and most colourful, the females and young are duller but importantly all individuals of the same species will usually have the same shape and proportions.

Behaviour or "Jizz"
Watch the bird's behaviour, or as it is known in bird watching terms, its "jizz". Does it hop or walk? Does it spend most of its time on the ground or bird table or on a hanging feeder? Is it aggressive towards other birds or is it timid, only coming when other birds have left? Does it have any habits such as flicking its wings, bobbing up and down, flying in a straight line or up and down? Is it always on its own or in a small flock of others of its own kind?

Song and Call
Sound is also important when identifying birds but is very difficult to describe in words. Try to describe the call by asking questions like: Is the call loud or quiet? High or low? Is the same note repeated or is it a long jumble of notes? Write down something to remind you of the sound. Does it sound like any bird you already know? Use phrasing. A very good example of this is spotting the difference between a Collard Dove and a Wood Pigeon. The Collard Dove "say" Can You Koo, Can You Koo .. while the Wood Pigeon "says" Take two John, Take Two.Take two John, Take two.

All images and text © Jim Wilson 2001.

© RTÉ 2011
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