How to identify the birds in your garden?

In 2016, 568 species of birds were recorded on French territory. This number includes nesting species, those that come to winter on our territory, but also those that are only passing through. In this context, identifying the birds in your garden is one more step towards knowing nature and the possibility of taking appropriate action to preserve it. But how to identify them? What tools are at your disposal to help you satisfy this thirst for knowledge?

Not so easy to identify the birds in your garden

Garden birds are an interesting and diverse fauna within easy reach, and it is with them that one can comfortably begin to observe. Obviously, nature is rich in variations of shapes and colors, but sometimes the modulations are done on details, and even a common and widespread species can pose problems of identification.

To start, you need landmarks, the regular practice of observation doing the rest. You should also be aware that the species that you can observe in the garden are different depending on whether you are in autumn and winter or in spring and summer.

Of course, not all bird species frequent your garden: your location, the presence or not of a pond or a wood, the dimensions of your garden, the diversity and abundance of vegetation, are factors which will appeal to species differently, depending on their lifestyles. In winter, a large part of the birds will come to your garden only if you drop seeds, crumbs, fruits and / or fat in their attention. For this, we must take into account their behaviours natural: there are the confident birds who do not hesitate to show themselves in the open and those who are more careful and stay close to bushes and climbing plants, there are those who prefer to eat perched on a feeder and those who prefer to search their food on the ground. Observing behavior and attitudes is also an integral part of species identification.

Tools and resources to identify birds in your garden

Depending on your use and your budget, you can acquire a pair of binoculars or a monocular. These tools are not useless in the bird watching of your garden, because you can have a good view without being able to detect the details which will make the difference between two species.

A monocular is the same as a pair of binoculars except you only use one eye. It has the advantage of being compact and light, compared to binoculars, so you can have it in your pocket all the time, even in town. Small defect, using only one eye, depth perception is disturbed. But that’s not what matters most for garden bird watching. Aim for quality without breaking the bank.

The basis of observation is to be able to compare what you have in front of you with a clearly identified species. For this, several possibilities are available to you:

  • a guide identification paper containing numerous illustrations,
  • an online site,
  • an application.

In the first category, Recognize the birds in our gardens, written by F. Desbordes for Ouest France editions, is a small waterproof, tear-proof guide. It contains 26 descriptive sheets in which each bird is represented by a drawing and described in its behavior and appearance. Le Petit guide ornitho – Observe and identify birds by Marc Duquet published by Delachaux and Niestle is a great classic aimed at children and adults alike. In addition to offering identification keys, it goes over the fundamentals: how a bird lives, how to observe them, how to attract them …

In the second category, this Internet page allows you to fill in your observations. As and when, the site offers birds that correspond to the elements indicated. The base only contains 75 species, but it can be useful to get started.

In the third category, the Ornidroid application running on Android or Ornithopedia Europe available on the Google Play platform are both free. The latter has the advantage of offering workouts. However, free access often has a downside, navigation interfaces are not optimal.

Identification requires method

The basis is being able to remotely assess the size of the bird you are looking to identify. If this seems like a difficult exercise to you, you can practice by organizing guessing sessions. You shouldn’t use everyday items because you know how big they are. Instead, have someone make shapes of different sizes and colors for you, such as plasticine, and place them in the garden – it’s up to you to assess their height. You compare your assessment with the real measure of the object: by training, you will become a champion!

The other important criterion in the identification of a bird is the color dominant or the two main colors of its feathers. Obviously, color blind people are at a disadvantage. But sometimes, between a light green and a yellow, it is not easy to tell the difference.

The shape of the beak and legs are also important for bird identification. This is where a monocular or a pair of binoculars come in particularly handy.

The delicious song of birds

Sight is a sense omnipresent in everyday life to the point that we sometimes forget to mobilize others. In the field of bird identification, song is also an essential element, especially since it allows to identify the presence of birds that we do not necessarily see. At night, it is easier to enjoy the song of tawny owls than to observe them.

Again, this requires training and auditory memory to be able to associate the song and the corresponding bird.

If you want progress quickly, whether for observation or for song, it is best to keep a notebook in which you write down the place, day and time at which you saw a particular bird, recalling each time its description and its behavior, even the species with which it can be confused. Your brain will thus train in another way to store the data useful for recognizing birds and you will become faster and faster to name them.

Threats to bird species

32% of species nesting on French territory are threatened. Birds associated with agricultural environments are particularly affected. One example is the skylark, which nests on the ground and searches the ground for its food and is therefore suffering from the intensification of agricultural practices and the decline of natural grasslands. Many seed-eating passerines are also experiencing a decline in their population: melodious linnet, peony bullfinch, elegant goldfinch or cini canary are suffering from the decline in fallow and winter stubble practices. Among the wintering or passing species, 15 species are threatened on French territory. There is no doubt that by developing your knowledge of birds, you will be helping to preserve them!

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