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  • Watching the way a bird behaves, like these Mottled Ducks foraging behind me,

  • is what attracts so many of us to birding.

  • But besides being fun to watch, the way a bird acts is also

  • a good clue to its identity.

  • On this episode of "Inside Birding", well examine the third key to identification:

  • behavior,

  • and how it can help you make better observations

  • and more easily identify the birds you see.

  • Oh, cool, there’s a Palm Warbler just below the Yellow-rump.

  • See, it’s flicking its tail.

  • Oh, yeah.

  • That’s cool.

  • Behavior is a critical component of bird identification because,

  • like size and shape,

  • it's consistent

  • and unchanging within a species.

  • With few exceptions, Blue Jays always behave like Blue Jays,

  • Hairy Woodpeckers

  • always behave like Hairy Woodpeckers, and so on.

  • For identification purposes,

  • we tend to focus on behaviors

  • that are most frequently occurring throughout the year.

  • These are posture,

  • foraging,

  • and flight style.

  • Unlike nesting and courtship behaviors, these are the things we see birds do every day.

  • That thing’s awesome.

  • A couple of Turkey Vultures down right. There’s another one.

  • In order to identify birds by their behavior,

  • we need to break down our observations with a series of questions.

  • Now remember, we're focused primarily on posture, foraging, and flight style.

  • First, let's take a look at posture.

  • A bird’s posture can be broken down by asking two simple questions: where and how.

  • "Where" is the easy part. And while there’s a lot of variation, most species prefer certain places over others.

  • Male Indigo Buntings will perch and sing at the tops of trees at forest edges,

  • while Ovenbirds are commonly found lurking in the forest understory.

  • Many hawks, like this Red-tailed, perch out in the open and sometimes

  • can be seen on the side of highways.

  • And grebes, like these Red-necked Grebes,

  • are almost always seen on the water.

  • After examining "where",

  • it's time to take a look at how the bird is perched or standing.

  • Does it stand hunched over like this Black-crowned Night-Heron?

  • Or is its posture more upright like this American Golden-Plover?

  • A warbler’s posture, like this Wilson’s, is more horizontal,

  • while cardinals tend to sit very upright.

  • Also observe if a bird

  • exhibits any repeated movements or ticks.

  • These motions,

  • like the tail dipping on an Eastern Phoebe

  • are often unique to certain species and

  • are very helpful for identification.

  • The Northern Waterthrush offers us another great example of repeated body movements.

  • See how it’s constantly bobbing its tail?

  • The Winter Wren has its own version of this kind of behavior --

  • it repeatedly bounces its entire body up and down.

  • Now, let's take a look at foraging behavior.

  • Just as with posture, the first thing we're going to do is break the behavior down

  • with a set of simple questions, first asking,

  • where does this bird forage?

  • Ducks, like this Mallard,

  • typically forage on the water,

  • while wading birds, like this Lesser Yellowlegs, are most commonly seen

  • stalking prey in the shallows.

  • Other birds,

  • like this Horned Lark,

  • like to forage on the ground in open areas and fields.

  • And let's not forget feeders.

  • There are a number of birds that frequently visit backyard feeders

  • to forage on seed or suet.

  • Once we've observed "where",

  • it's time to ask

  • how does the bird forage?

  • Shorebirds, like this Piping Plover,

  • dash around and then pause to pick food off the surface.

  • Short-billed Dowitchers

  • have a different style.

  • They probe deep into the mud for their meal.

  • Some birds, like this Brown Creeper, excavate their meal from

  • underneath tree bark.

  • While others, like this woodcock, pull it from the ground.

  • Flycatchers,

  • like this Tropical Kingbird,

  • are aerial acrobats,

  • sailing from an exposed perch to catch insects on the wing.

  • And the White-throated Sparrow provides a great example of how certain birds can find food

  • by scratching through leaf-litter.

  • Even the birds coming to your feeder exhibit different foraging styles.

  • A Black-capped Chickadee, for example, will snag a seed and quickly takeoff for a

  • nearby branch before eating it,

  • while a Rose-breasted Grosbeak will stay on the feeder to eat as much as it can.

  • Finally, once youve looked at where and how,

  • try to figure out what the bird is eating.

  • Birds can be a masterful hunters

  • and, like this Tricolored Heron, can make catching fish look easy.

  • Warblers, like this Yellow-rumped,

  • move quickly through trees and shrubs in pursuit of insects.

  • Other birds, like this Carolina Chickadee, rely on seeds for their meal.

  • And in the late summer or early fall, you can often find robins

  • or Cedar Waxwings eating berries.

  • If you watch closely, you'll be amazed at what birds,

  • like this Purple Gallinule, eat.

  • Flight style is more nuanced, but you should do your best to broadly describe

  • what you're seeing, focusing on wing beats and directness of flight.

  • So if we look at a tern, like this Arctic Tern, you'll notice how they hover

  • on snappy, shallow wing beats, before plunging into the water to catch fish.

  • Short-eared Owls fly with deep moth-like wing beats, punctuated by short glides.

  • And ducks, like these shovelers, are recognizable by their wickedly fast wing beats.

  • And shorebirds,

  • like these Hudsonian Godwits,

  • are commonly seen in fast-moving flocks.

  • By comparison, Sandhill Cranes exhibit deep, methodical wing beats and

  • arrow-straight flight patterns.

  • Even soaring birds, like this Osprey,

  • have characteristic flight styles that allow you to identify them.

  • The Bald Eagle soars on flat, steady wings.

  • Look how different this is from the Turkey Vulture's

  • v-shaped, teetering flight style.

  • While keying in on flight style

  • may seem difficult,

  • if you stick with it

  • youll start to recognize the differences between species

  • that will help you identify them.

  • Brown Pelicans going over the crest of the sea break. About 35 or so...

  • See the Royal Terns on the beach?

  • The diversity of bird behavior is astounding.

  • And while it seems like one of the more difficult keys to employ,

  • the fundamentals of birding by behavior are actually quite simple.

  • It's all about your observations. And to make good observations,

  • all you really need to do is spend time

  • watching the birds you see.

  • If you spend time watching bird behavior,

  • the way they move,

  • fly, and forage, I guarantee that youll develop a real appreciation

  • for what you're seeing.

  • And remember, just as with the shape of a bird’s bill or the melody of a bird’s song,

  • the way a bird behaves is consistent within a species.

  • This makes behavior a very reliable indicator

  • for bird identification.

  • So get out there,

  • makes some good observations, and you'll take your birding to the next level.

  • See the Royal Tern on the right? Oh, I got it.

Watching the way a bird behaves, like these Mottled Ducks foraging behind me,

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B2 bird behavior posture forage flight foraging

Inside Birding: Behavior

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    fisher posted on 2013/03/24
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