[MUSIC PLAYING] BEN BARKLEY: Hi. My name is Ben Barkley, and I'm a graduate of Cornell University, where I studied Natural Resources. Today, I'm going to talk to you all about birds, and specifically, my favorite hobby, birding.
There are interesting things going on wherever birds can be seen. There's an enormous variety of bird feeding behaviors. Some hunt prey for a living. Others scoop tiny organisms off the water. Others break seeds. And others make acrobatic flights to catch insects.
While many bird species try not to be noticed, there are some whose courtship is hardly discreet. For some species, the bigger, the louder, the brighter, and the crazier dance moves are the ways to attract mates. And who hasn't been amazed when flocks of geese fly in formation in the fall, or when massive calling groups land in a nearby field?
One thing that I realized is finding out more about birds really helped me better understand what they were doing. Instead of just seeing pretty birds, I was able to interpret their behavior and see so much more. Now, instead of just seeing a bird on a branch, I was able to witness a fast-paced reality show.
I have been an avid birder for seven years now. And while I do enjoy traveling the world looking for birds that I have never seen before, I always love returning home to New York and New Jersey to bird. Today, I'm going to emphasize the birds of the Northeast-- in particular, the birds of New York.
My goal is to help you get started on birding and the world of birds, because this is something you don't want to miss out on. Birding is a hobby that will last you a lifetime. You can do it almost anywhere, and it is always changing. I love it, and I'm sure you will, too.
First, recognize that one of the joys of birding is that you can do it for free. All you have to do is keep your eyes open. However, there are two things that can help you when you're out in the field birding.
First, a good pair of binoculars can help you see birds up close. Focusing is easy once you know how to do it. Take your binoculars. And hold them up to your eyes. Now, close your left eye, and use the right focus stop to focus your right eye. Now, close your right eye, and use this top focus knob to focus with your left eye. Now, look through your binoculars. Everything should be in focus now. In the future, when you want to focus your binoculars, all you have to use is this top focus knob.
The second piece of gear you'll need is a field guide. A lot of people choose to carry their field guides out with them in the field. So you'll need one that is small and easy to carry. One of most popular options is the Sibley guide to Eastern birds.
Now that you have the appropriate gear, here are some identification tips to help you while you're out birding. A bird's color may seem like the most obvious thing to identify it. However, in certain instances with bad lighting, it can often be hard to determine a bird's color. Instead, birders often use size and shape.
The most helpful thing is to put the bird in the appropriate size category. Was it a small bird, a medium bird, or a large bird? It is often helpful to compare this with commonly known birds. For instance, was the bird the size of a sparrow, a robin, a crow, or a goose? All of these identification tools of size and shape are helpful in identifying your birds. If you can get a bird into a particular size range, it can go a long way towards identifying your bird.
Another tool that birders use is shape. Did the bird have a big head? What was the size and shape of the beak? How long was the tail? How long were the legs? All of these questions are very important to answer when trying to identify a bird.
A third very useful tip is to take a look at habitat clues. Was the bird in the forest? Was it on the ground? Was it in the grass, or was it near water? Picking out where a particular bird likes to spend its time is very important in identifying a species.
What about shape? Take a look at this bird. It has a massive bill, a big head with a shaggy crest, and a big body. This bird is a belted kingfisher. And that bill is perfect for catching fish.
Now, owls are something that birders and even non-birders can enjoy. This one is a big bird with two small tufts, a big head with a great round face. All of these are great tools to help identify this as a great horned owl.
Now let us combine those first two tips, and let's add in some habitat clues. Take a look at this bird. I notice that it's about the size of a robin. It has a long, sharp bill, and it's climbing on the tree trunks. I'm close to identifying this bird as a red-bellied woodpecker.
Here's a second example. This bird is much bigger than the woodpecker and has much longer legs. It's closer in size to a crow. It appears to be on the ground near water. Certain types of birds prefer the ground to trees. With a bit of searching in my field guide, I find that this bird is a shore bird called a killdeer.
OK, we are on our way to identifying birds. But now, we have to find them. So what is the best time to see birds? And when should we go out?
The Northeastern United States is great, because it has a wide variety of habitats, but also four distinct seasons. Those four seasons bring with them a very unique set of species.
The best time of year in the Northeast to go birding is the springtime. A lot of our birds winter in Central and South America. But by April, they're starting to return to the United States. And many of them make it back to the Northeast by early May.
Many of these birds are migratory and are only brief visitors to New York. They will stop and feed at whatever habitat patches they can find along their route. These birds will be in beautiful plumage and singing songs to attract mates.
So many birds come to this area during the spring, it makes an exceptional time to see many wonderful birds. Many of these birds will continue on their way to breed in Canada. However, many breed in the northern United States as well. These birds will stick around all summer and remain on their breeding territories while they raise their young.
In the summer, as birds set their territories and begin to breed, there is a lot of activity to see, especially during courtship. The males will be in beautiful plumage and in full song during this time.
In the early morning, when birds are excited to advertise themselves to potential mates, you hear what is called a dawn chorus. This is when the energetic males wake up and belt their full song to participate in this daily concert.
In fall, most of the birds that were breeding in Canada need to come back through New York and the Northeast to stop, rest, and feed. However, many of the birds have now changed their appearance. Each year, birds undergo an event called molting, in which they replace their feathers and can completely change their appearance. In spring, the males need bright and colorful feathers to attract their mates. But in fall, they return to their duller winter colors. The overall appearance of a bird's feathers is called its plumage. The birds are now in their winter plumage as they head south for winter.
Fall brings with it a great variety of hawks migrating south, along with thousands of migrating songbirds. You can easily see and hear geese and other birds flying south for the winter.
In the wintertime, many of the birds that eat insects have returned to Central and South America, where there's plenty of food and warm, sunny skies. However, there are those hardy souls that brave the cold Northeast winter. These birds rely on a diet anywhere from seeds and nuts to small mammals and marine invertebrates.
Some of the birds that you can find in the Northeastern winter include owls, finches, and ducks. New York really has some wonderful species of bird throughout the year.
The best time of day, no matter the season, to find birds is the morning. Birds don't like to be too hot or too cold. Oftentimes, on a summer afternoon, it can be way too hot for birds to be active. And in the wintertime, it is too cold for birds to be using energy feeding or singing. The best time to be out birding is generally right after sunrise. And you'll want to find plenty of sun.
A lot of birds like water. There are some that are restricted to areas with water, such as loons, grebes, ducks, herons, and seabirds, such as albatrosses and shearwaters.
Many birds, like warblers, vireos, woodpeckers, and tanagers can be found in forests, either deciduous or coniferous. Oftentimes, forests with trees like maples or oaks hold different species than those with pines or spruces.
There are also many species that are grassland specialists. Birds like sparrows and sandpipers like to live in the grasslands.
There are also ways to get birds to come to you. Many people choose to put up bird feeders in their back yards, where a wide variety of birds come to feed. Birders can put a lot of different food items in these feeders, such as seeds, fruits, and even peanut butter. Feeders offer a great place for birds to have a quick and easy meal. In winter especially, when food resources are harder to find, many species visit backyard feeders. Birds that are regularly seen at feeders include sparrows, finches, cardinals, woodpeckers, hummingbirds, doves, nuthatches, wrens, and many more recognizable species.
Birding is a fascinating hobby, and it may seem a little overwhelming at first. But with the right practice, some helpful tips, and the right equipment, you are well on your way to identifying your first species of bird. Mine was an American redstart in my own back yard. What will yours be?
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Birdwatching, or birding, is an inexpensive hobby open to everyone, anywhere in the world. The pleasures of discovering the incredible diversity of bird behaviors, colors and songs are shared in this video featuring birds of the Northeastern United States. Produced by Cornell University's Naturalist Outreach Program and Ithaca College's Park Productions, with support from Cornell Cooperative Extension/ NYS 4H and NSF-DUE.