Identifying Birds | Week 1
Hello future birders!
My project encompasses the world of birding. Birding, also known as birdwatching, is a rather self-explanatory hobby–it’s as easy as watching the birds right outside your window! The beautiful part about birdwatching is that you can do it from almost anywhere, whether it be a local trail or even your own backyard. I have been a birdwatcher for as long as I can remember, and I started off by using field guides to identify birds in local parks and nature preserves. As I got better at identifying common species, my interest in birding deepened. Checking a species off a list was no longer as interesting; instead, I found myself keenly observing the behavior of the birds I would usually move past quickly.
The type of behavior that caught my attention the most was nesting behavior. Understanding the nesting behavior of birds helps us develop better techniques for tracking native bird populations and finding ways to conserve their habitat. One of the most common ways to do this is by tracking nest boxes, which are manmade cavities that many different species of birds nest in.
This brings me to the topic of my senior project–making nest box monitoring more accessible to the general public. My goal is to create a comprehensive guide on how to build, monitor, and maintain a nest box. While this may seem relatively trivial, there are many nuances in nest box monitoring process. It requires that one be able to not only identify the bird species using the box but also describe the nest’s characteristics. In addition, one must be able to monitor the nest carefully without disturbing the birds inside.
Over the course of the next ten weeks, I will be using my blog posts to teach everyone about the basics of monitoring a nest box. This week, we’ll start with one of the easier tasks–identifying common birds in the Bay Area that use nest boxes. The five species that most often nest in the boxes that I monitor are the following: Western Bluebird, Chestnut-backed Chickadee, White-breasted Nuthatch, House Wren, and Oak Titmouse. Western bluebirds (WBB) are characterized by their entirely blue bodies and rust-colored chests. They’re medium-sized birds and require larger cavities in their nest boxes than any of the other birds mentioned above. Western bluebirds are one of the easier species to identify due to their striking color.
Chestnut-backed chickadees (CBCH) are significantly smaller and feature a little white stripe just below their eyes. The rest of their head is black, and their body is chestnut colored, as implied by their name. They have black wings, a black tail, and a white belly. These are the most common inhabitants of nest boxes in the area that I monitor.
One of our rarer species is the White-breasted nuthatch (WBNH). They are also quite small and have a black crown on their otherwise-white head. As the name implies, they have a white breast and belly, and their back is slate blue. These birds are most often seen traveling headfirst down tree trunks.
House wrens (HW) are a bit harder to identify due to their drab appearance. They seem pot-bellied, and are often perched with their tails flicked up. They are brown allover, with some darker brown speckling.
Last but not least are Oak titmice (OKT). These birds are all gray, with a large tuft on the top of their heads. While often difficult to see, they have a distinct sound. Their calls tend to alternate between short high and low whistles.
Hopefully, this crash course in bird identification will make it easier to understand my future blog posts. Who knows, maybe you’ll see one of these birds in your backyard this week!