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When Trying to ID Do You Start With the FAMILY and Work Down?

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Old Wednesday 29th March 2017, 19:46   #1
MUHerd
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When Trying to ID Do You Start With the FAMILY and Work Down?

Hey all,

I am curious about what method you all use to ID birds that you don't know if you're alone and no mentor or group members around to help you.

Do you first try to narrow it down to the specific FAMILY and then try to get to the GENUS and then, eventually, to the Common Name?
I know there's quite a few Families to learn and know to do this method. It seems it would be a bit easier than trying to learn every bird in your region and its characteristics.

For those of you that don't know darn near every bird in the USA, how do you go about ID'ing a bird that you see and have no idea what it is? Do you have any kind of specific way to work towards a positive ID?

Thoughts?

Thank you all.
Larry
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Old Wednesday 29th March 2017, 20:10   #2
Rapala
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When faced with a difficult ID, I focus on certain aspects or the overall impression that I get from the bird. For example, bill shape and behavior give me clues as to the family, such as warblers vs sparrows and the like. From there I focus on finer aspects of the bird, such as plumage and coloration, to narrow down the bird to a species. So yes, I will generally narrow the bird down to a family, and then to a species from there.

Identifying birds is tricky, and I have learned it best through experience. The more time you can get familiarizing yourself with birds the better, and it will help you recognize different birds in the future.
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Old Wednesday 29th March 2017, 20:20   #3
nartreb
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It's mostly - some birds are easy, some are hard. Family usually isn't my first stop: If it's a shorebird, I don't always know whether it's a plover or a sandpiper. If it's a small songbird, I may need to consider vireos, warblers, sparrows, buntings, etc, depending on color.

In other words, for an unfamiliar bird I'll usually start at Order, and if all else fails I'll check all the Families in the Order (though I usually will have an idea which Families I've had trouble with in the past). With any luck I don't need to check all the species in each Family; after checking a few species I'll usually have a decent idea of whether I'm getting close or should skip to a different Family. I don't pay much attention to genus. There's usually only a very few species of the same genus that are likely to be found in the same location, so genus isn't much of a "stop" in the process.

More often, when I see a bird, it's a commmon one, and I'll instantly recognize the species. Some birds are hard (warblers, vireos, sandpipers, gulls), but many are fairly straightforward, and there aren't as many of them as you might think.

edit to add: to get the Order, look at overall shape, behavior, flight style (beats per minute), size, habitat, beak shape if visible. raptor? wader? swimmer? diver? ground-scratcher? insect-catcher? berry-eater? high-percher? bush-lurker? brightly colored? Little Brown Job?

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Old Wednesday 29th March 2017, 21:42   #4
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I invariably approach unfamiliar birds taxonomically, family if I'm really at sea, genus more commonly.

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Old Thursday 30th March 2017, 15:06   #5
Larry Sweetland
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Agree with the above.

I also find it useful when faced with something confusing, to tell myself (preferably even saying it) everything I can see on it "live", going over the bird as quickly as possible before it flies away. Eg "ok, black legs, creamy greater covert wingbar, yellow breast merges into white belly but more olive on the flanks, dark bill...oh no...hang on.. it's got a pale pinkish base to the lower mandible" etc. With experience you get to know which parts of the bird are likely to be important to check once you've narrowed it down to family or genus.
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Old Thursday 30th March 2017, 19:06   #6
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I started by reading the field guide first (many times) and then I knew "what exists" and what page (or part of field guide) to go to when I see something unusual. There are certain groups of difficult species, generally on family level; in the field guide, shorebirds were generally between the other waterbirds and the landbirds, somewhere around the middle of the book, there are Old World Warblers somewhere at the third quarter of the book and buntings are in the back. (in the field guides I had then). Many groups were encountered one new species at the time; I don't know how those people who visit an unfamiliar part of the world deal with being dumped with 50-60 new species on the first day.
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