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I am a very amateur birdwatcher, but I watch and notice birds every day: in my yard, on hikes and runs, out the car window. I have a fair number of guidebooks and can identify most of the common birds I see around me: pileated woodpeckers, downy woodpeckers, osprey, black capped chickadees, red-tailed hawks, barred owls, phoebes, juncos (some day I'll start a life list), but I'm not as good with some of the bird calls.

The other day I somehow ended up on the Cornell Lab of Ornithology's All About Birds website. The site offers an online bird guide with a lot of info (all for free) on many birds: keys to identification (size, shape, color, behavior, habitat), life history of the bird, audio of various songs, and video. Each bird's entry is neatly organized, and the information, along with the bird songs and videos, makes the site very worthwhile.

For more in-depth info, naturalists can subscribe to The Birds of North America ($42/year). However, for the casual amateur, the All About Birds site alone has a trove of information.

Here's a "cool fact" I learned about black capped chickadees: Every autumn Black-capped Chickadees allow brain neurons containing old information to die, replacing them with new neurons so they can adapt to changes in their social flocks and environment even with their tiny brains.

You even can get your bird fix from the office. The site links to several live nest cams. I watched a barn owl in a nesting box for several minutes, till it went to sleep. And Cornell's Macaulay Library has the largest archive of animal sounds and videos in the world. I searched for "pileated woodpecker" and got 412 audio and video results.

The All About Birds site is a great find. I just wish they had an iPhone app version, so I could take it with me. (I've been debating between some of the other current offerings.) In the meantime, I'll keep this site bookmarked.


FWIW, I heartily second Alicia's recommendation of the Cornell ornithology site. They've long been a repository of knowledge and all things useful in the world of ornithology, and it's coming out in very well done and useful form at AAB. The best animal guide site of any sort on the web, at least that I've yet come across.

I agree. I think I've visited the site in the distant past, but don't recall it being so well done. You can easily while away some time on the site, and it's all for free and easy to navigate.

From the About Us section:

All About Birds is created by the staff of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. It’s our aim to make this site the Web’s best and most comprehensive resource for North American birds, bird watching, and bird conservation—accessible to everyone for free.

I think I've experienced much the same. I had long ago visited the CLO web site, knowing of their reputation, etc., but came away then thinking it wasn't yet what I'd like it to be. On re-discovering it a few months ago, I found it to be pretty much exactly what I'd like the WWW to be. I'm still not using it to the extent possible, or to the extent I'd like, but it's not the fault of the Cornell staff/web developers.

In dropping in just now, I was able to hear two versions of Song Sparrow calls and learn a bit about Black-throated sparrows, and listen to their calls as well. Not having black-throated sparrows in my locale, I then looked up the more familiar (round here) white-throated sparrow, whereupon I learned that there are two morphs of these little favorites of mine, with a "cool fact" as follows:

"The White-throated Sparrow comes in two color forms: white-crowned and tan-crowned. The two forms are genetically determined, and they persist because individuals almost always mate with a bird of the opposite morph. Males of both color types prefer females with white stripes, but both kinds of females prefer tan-striped males. White-striped birds are more aggressive than tan-striped ones, and white-striped females may be able to outcompete their tan-striped sisters for tan-striped males."

I just might spend the rest of the day listening to bird songs.

Cornell also offers a parallel site called eBird, which allows a registered user to log lists of species sightings and--a very useful feature here--check the variety and frequency of species sightings in a given locale. Here's a look at a typical data presentation:

The bigger the green bar, the more commonly sighted the species during the month of interest. Can be very useful to bone up on the birds one is likely to see, or may possibly see with a bit of work, in an area to be visited. Unfortunately, the areas best covered by this data set are urban/suburban, since it relies on submission from volunteer birders. But that also means that lists submitted by birders from visits to out-of-the-way areas can be of great value in increasing the utility of the site. Yes, you can be useful!

Thanks for the heads-up on eBird.

Speaking of birds, I was hiking yesterday in Bradbury Mountain State Park in Maine and on the summit they were conducting a spring hawkwatch. Apparently they're up there counting raptors and other birds every day for two months.

It was quite windy though and no birds were seen while I was up there. They had binoculars and scopes to share.

Cool. I've long wanted to come across a hawk watch-type of affair. Too bad there weren't more obliging raptors.

One of the more interesting, though somewhat obtuse, nature books I've got is one on identification of hawks in flight. Dave Sibley and co-author whose name I can't recall at present. I wish I were more up on the topic--being able to ID a hawk circling a couple hundred feet overhead is a cool skill.

I'm taking a Ornithology at Northern Michigan University this semester, birding has become one of my favorite things to do while I'm out hiking. Especially since all the migratory birds are showing up now. this weekend my professor and I are going to go see a sharp tailed grouse lek.

I am hoping Audubon has the birding outings at the OR Show again this summer. That was a lot of fun (and left me drooling over the loaner super-binoculars that Nikon brought along - couldn't quite convince myself to lay out $3000 for a pair, though, despite how much better than my workhorse $250 ones they were, at more than 10 times the price). If they have it again, I will take my good camera and the 80-400 zoom lens.


I envy you the trip to the lek. Both cool and amazing to see. I've never taken an ornithology class, though I'd love to, for fun.

Bill--It's amazing, the advances in optics that just keep coming, etc. I'm still using my "workhorse" binocs most of the time, too, and I've got a nice little Swarovski compact set that I often take along on hikes. Had both for years, and they do well enough that as long as I don't peer through the $3K lenses too much, I'm pretty satisfied.

BTW, with regards to birds, we're now having the annual visits from a pair of mallards to our backyard pond. We've got a small pothole-style pond in our backyard, with some cover and so forth around, and it attracts birds very nicely. Each year for the last several we've had a pair of mallards visit, apparently scoping the place out regarding homesteading possibilities while they dine on whatever they find in the pond. Unfortunately, our dog seems to classify ducks into the same group as her nemeses, the squirrels, and so the ducks after a few visits end up moving their activities elsewhere. But since the pooch also guards our fish against the annual great blue heron visitor, I guess it's a fair trade-off. Wish we could "make way for ducklings", but, oh, well.

The lek was awesome, we counted 13 sharp-tailed grouse actually displaying in the lek and than 7 more fly-overs. We had to army-crawl up a hill to be sure not to disturb them., it was funny. There were also sandhill cranes calling, giving the feeling of prehistoric times. After we were at the lek for a couple of hours we went peninsula point (down at lake michigan in stonington) we saw tundra swans, flickers, northern cardinals, dark-eyed juncos, eastern phoebes, eastern medowlarks, red-winged blackbirds, fox sparrows, a sharp-shinned hawk, and a northern harrier. Out dabbling in the water we saw lots of mallards, along with a few green-winged teal, a northern pintail, bufflehead, Canada geese, common mergansers, mute swans.

Sounds like a great day of birding. Although I suspect the highlight was the grouse display, I really enjoy cranes as well. Amazing creatures.

yeah the lek will be a memory i wont forget anytime soon. I signed up for field ornithology for the summer so I'm excited for that, it's a 4 week class that we go out and camp for 3 days at a time all throughout the upper peninsula and do birding.

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