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Unit V Winter Birds in Kansas Information. How to identify birds. How to identify birds Here is a general outline for how to identify birds and what to look for.

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how to identify birds
How to identify birds
  • How to identify birds
  • Here is a general outline for how to identify birds and what to look for.
  • First, become familiar with the field guide you are using so that you know how it is organized, and where different kinds of birds are likely to be found. I strongly recommend the Kaufman Guide to North American Birds, especially for beginning/intermediate birders. This book, unlike other bird guides, is organized by the type of bird and bird colors and is very helpful for ID. (Other bird guides are organized taxonomically).
how to identify birds cont
How to identify birds, cont.
  • Use a state checklist to narrow down your choices in the field guide. This will list all the birds that have been found in the state. These are organized taxonomically (by bird family) so you will also need to know what general kind of bird you are looking at. The Kansas Ornithological Society has a checklist of birds you can print out at: http://www.ksbirds.org/kos/kos_pubs.html
  • Be familiar with the general types of birds out there:
    • Swimmers—ducks and duck-like birds
    • Aerialists—gulls and gull-like birds
    • Long-legged waders—herons, cranes, etc.
    • Smaller waders—shorebirds
    • Fowl-like birds—quail, prairie chickens, etc.
    • Birds of prey—hawks, eagles, owls
    • Nonpasserine land birds
    • Passerine (perching) birds
how to identify birds cont4
How to identify birds, cont.
  • When you see an unknown bird, first compare its size to something you do know, like is it the size of a robin? A sparrow? A pigeon? A hawk? Note that in field guides, they measure a birds size from the tip of the beak to the tip of the tail, so it may ‘sound’ larger than what you are looking at. Comparing it to a known bird is more reliable and trying to judge length in inches.
  • What is the birds body shape? Is it plump, thin, cigar-shaped, round, stream-lined?
  • What shape are the wings? Are they long and pointed, rounded, thick/deep?
  • What shape is the bill? Is it fine and pointed, thick, hook-tipped? Is it as long as the head or shorter or longer?
how to identify birds cont5
How to identify birds, cont.
  • What shape is the tail? Is it forked, rounded, squared-off, notched, pointed?
  • How does the bird behave? Does it move around a lot? Does it sit still? Does it bob and dip when it walks? Does it run? Does it bob it’s tail? Does it fly out from a branch and then return again?
  • Does it climb trees? If so, does it climb up or down the trunks?
  • How does it fly? Does it dip up and down, fly in a straight line, glide and soar, hover?
  • Does it swim? If so, does it sit low in the water or can you see most of its body? Does it dive completely under or does it upend with only the head under water?
  • Does it wade? If so, is it large like a heron or small like a sandpiper? If the latter, does it probe the mud or pick at things? Does it teeter or bob?
how to identify birds cont6
How to identify birds, cont.
  • What are its field marks? What colors are on it and in what pattern?
    • Tail patterns: does it have white patches on the outer tail feathers or on the corners, or none at all? Does it have a band near or at the end of the tail?
    • Rump patches: does it have a different color where the tail meets the back?
    • Eye stripes and eye rings: does it have a different color above, below or through the eye? Does it have a ring around it’s eye? Does it have a ‘mustache’ stripe?
    • Wing bars: do the wings have light stripes across them or not?
    • Wing patterns: very important on ducks and shorebirds. Are they solid color or have a stripe or contrasting black tips?
    • Note that colors can sometimes be deceiving in different light.
how to identify birds cont7
How to identify birds, cont.
  • Bird topography: what the parts of the body and kinds of feathers are called. This vocabulary is often used in field guides. See this link:
    • http://www.birds.cornell.edu/schoolyard/all_about_birds/bird_id/bird_topography.html
resources for learning more
Resources for learning more
  • Birds have both songs and calls.
    • Songs are what birds sing during courtship and territory defense, usually before and after their mating season, but typically not all year long.
    • Calls are the other sounds birds make, in the “off-season”, during winter and before territory/mating season. They are usually shorter “chip” notes and such.
  • To hear and practice bird songs and calls, try: http://www.mbr-pwrc.usgs.gov/id/songlist.html
  • To get a checklist of the Birds in Kansas, go to: http://www.ksbirds.org/kos/koslist10.pdf
some major groups of winter birds in kansas
Some Major Groups of Winter Birds in Kansas
  • Birds of Prey
  • Medium-sized Land Birds
  • Typical Songbirds
  • Tanagers, Blackbirds
  • Sparrows
  • Finches, Buntings
sharp shinned hawk12
Sharp-shinned Hawk
  • Family: Accipitridae, the hawks, kites, and eagles
  • More common in winter than the summer, but are most common throughout the state in April and October
  • May be found wherever there are trees and small birds, therefore often hunts at bird feeders
bald eagle15
Bald Eagle
  • Family: Accipitridae, the hawks, kites, and eagles
  • Juveniles are dark brown, with small white patches. Takes four to five years to have white head and tail.
  • Typically found along rivers and near reservoirs.
  • Most often seen in winter in NE Kansas, but a few breeding pairs can be found at some of the larger reservoirs.
  • Primarily eat dead/injured waterfowl, fish, and carrion.
red tailed hawk lower bird17
Red-tailed Hawk (lower bird)

Red-tailed Hawk scavenges on White-tailed Deer carcass (Video compliments of Ken Highfill)

red tailed hawk
Red-tailed Hawk
  • Family: Accipitridae, the hawks, kites, and eagles
  • Most common and widespread large hawk throughout the eastern half of the state.
  • Uses utility poles along highways and roads as hunting perches.
  • Feeds on small mammals and reptiles along roadsides, but also scavenge roadkills
eastern screech owl
Eastern Screech-Owl

Taxidermy mount from KU Natural History Museum

eastern screech owl20
Eastern Screech-Owl

Taxidermy mount from KU Natural History Museum

eastern screech owl21
Eastern Screech-Owl
  • Family: Strigidae, the Typical Owls
  • Year-round resident
  • Our smallest residential owl (there are smaller migratory owls though)
  • Only about 8 ½ inches high!
  • Call is a descending whinny and/or a monotone trill.
great horned owl
Great Horned Owl

Taxidermy mount from KU Natural History Museum

great horned owl24
Great Horned Owl
  • Family: Strigidae, the Typical Owls
  • Year-round resident
  • Our largest owl in Kansas
  • Our earliest breeding bird in Kansas—calls for mates during November and December, and is usually incubating eggs in January.
  • Call sounds like: “Whose awake? Me, too”
barn owl
Barn Owl

Taxidermy mount from KU Natural History Museum

barn owl26
Barn Owl
  • Family: Tytonidae, the Barn Owls
  • Common, permanent resident in eastern Kansas.
  • Occur frequently in suburban areas, parks, and cemeteries but are more often heard than seen.
  • Lays eggs from mid-March to mid-May.
  • Eats insects and other arthropods in summer; small mammals, chiefly mice, and small birds are eaten in winter.
barred owl28
Barred Owl
  • Family: Strigidae, the Typical Owls
  • Smaller than Great Horned Owl, but chunky without ear-tufts
  • Much more likely than other owls to be heard during daytime.
  • Common in woods, river bottoms and wetlands.
  • Call sounds like, “Who cooks for you? Who cooks for you all…?”
american kestrel31
American Kestrel
  • Family: Falconidae, the falcons
  • Smallest falcon species
  • Hunts grasshoppers in summer and small rodents in winter (typically).
  • Can wind-hover—stays in one place while hovering over a field
  • Can see infrared urine trails in the grass left by mice.
downy woodpecker34
Downy Woodpecker
  • Family: Picidae, the woodpeckers
  • Smallest woodpecker in Kansas
  • Males have red crown patch. Females don’t have any red on head.
  • Eats sunflower seeds from feeders, but prefers suet from suet feeders.
  • Shy birds, often hide on opposite side of tree trunk
  • Use their tail as a brace when they climb up a tree.
  • In winter can be found in mixed flocks of chickadees, kinglets and titmice.
red bellied woodpecker36
Red-bellied Woodpecker
  • Family: Picidae, the woodpeckers
  • About the size of a blue jay.
  • Readily eats suet from a suet feeder and also likes orange halves.
  • Females have red on the back of head and nape of neck, but not on top of head or forehead, like the males do.
northern flicker39
Northern Flicker
  • Family: Picidae, the woodpeckers
  • Common year-round
  • Found in open woodland, parks and areas with shorter grass.
  • Can be seen foraging on the ground.
  • Generally the “yellow-shafted” race is found here.
mourning dove41
Mourning Dove
  • Family: Columbidae, the pigeons and doves
  • Mates for life
  • Resident in Kansas year-round.
  • Mostly feeds on ground, but will sit on a platform feeder also.
  • Eats sunflower seed, corn, grains.
  • There is a hunting season on this bird.
tufted titmouse44
Tufted Titmouse
  • Family: Paridae, the chickadees and titmice
  • Size of a chickadee
  • Often associates with chickadees
  • Year-round resident
  • If you have a good wooded habitat, they will come to feeders for seed.
red breasted nuthatch46
Red-breasted Nuthatch
  • Family: Sittidae, the nuthatches
  • Occurs mainly in winter, in areas with extensive conifers (pine trees)
  • Found most winters in appropriate habitat
  • Very inquisitive and can easily be lured into a couple of feet of the observer.
  • Prefers sunflower seeds and shelled peanuts at feeders.
white breasted nuthatch49
White-breasted Nuthatch
  • Family: Sittidae, the nuthatches
  • Present all year, numbers increase in winter from northern birds moving down here.
  • Climbs up and down and around tree trunks and limbs. Moves down tree head first (most birds do not).
  • Very vocal.
  • Readily comes to feeders, especially suet, also eats insects.
blue jay51
Blue Jay
  • Family: Corvidae, the Corvids, crows and jays
  • Common resident in Kansas
  • Readily eats seed from feeders and also likes acorns and other nuts.
  • Territorial and very aggressive, especially when nesting.
  • Migrates farther south in the fall, and our winter birds may be northern breeders, or our numbers may simply be augmented by northern birds.
american crow53
American Crow
  • Family: Corvidae, the crows and jays
  • Common, year-round resident
  • Our largest crow
  • Like all corvids, is extremely intelligent.
black capped chickadee55
Black-capped Chickadee
  • Family: Paridae, chickadees and titmice
  • Small, gregarious birds
  • Year-round residents
  • Readily eats sunflower seeds at feeders
  • Often found in mixed flocks with downy woodpeckers, kinglets and titmice in winter.
  • This species has been hit hard by West Nile Virus, and their numbers have declined in recent years.
cedar waxwing57
Cedar Waxwing
  • Family: Bombycillidae, the waxwings
  • A few nest here in summer, typically found in groups in the winter.
  • Found in open habitats where berries are available (what they eat), also insects, sap, flower petals.
  • Have been known to eat fermented berries until they are too “drunk” to fly.
  • Habit of passing food from one to another along a line until someone finally eats it.
american robin59
American Robin
  • Family: Turdidae, the thrushes
  • Often called the “harbinger of spring”, although it is found in Kansas during most winters. May move farther south when it is really cold and back again when it is a moderate winter.
  • Does not eat at feeders, but a common yard bird.
  • Eats earthworms. Hunts for them by listening for their movements under the soil and then digging them up with their sharp beak.
eastern bluebird61
Eastern Bluebird
  • Family: Turdidae, the thrushes
  • Summer breeder, winter resident.
  • Cavity nesters, often out-competed for nest space by non-native birds.
  • Population was in serious decline until people started putting up bluebird houses all over the country.
northern cardinal64
Northern Cardinal
  • Family: Cardinalidae, the cardinals
  • Males are bright red while females are a dull brown with red tinges.
  • Seed eaters
  • Must eat at platform feeders or on the ground—their beak is too big to fit in most feeder holes.
  • Extremely strong beak to crack open tough seeds.
  • Year-round resident.
house finch67
House Finch
  • Family: Fringillidae, the finches
  • Males have red wash on face, head and chest. Females are brown and white streaked.
  • Readily eat sunflower seed from feeders.
  • They occur where humans live.
american goldfinch70
American Goldfinch
  • Family: Fringillidae, the finches
  • Will eat sunflower seed or thistle (nyger) seed from feeder.
  • They are a duller, greenish-yellow in winter, and in late April, the males molt to the very bright yellow.
  • Latest nesting bird in Kansas—they nest in July and August when the thistles have gone to seed. They use the fluff from the seed to line their nests and the seed is their main food source.
european starling73
European Starling
  • Family: Sturnidae, the starlings
  • Non-native bird, introduced from Europe.
  • Introduced in New York City because a group of people there thought every bird ever mentioned in Shakespeare’s writings should be released in America.
  • Starlings spread across the continent and are very aggressive, opportunistic birds that will literally eat anything.
  • Common wherever people are found.
  • Also a cavity-nester and out-competes our native cavity nesting birds.
  • Very destructive for native populations of birds.
house sparrow76
House Sparrow
  • Family: Passeridae, the passerines
  • Not really a sparrow. Rather they are a weaver finch from Europe. Colonial nester.
  • Not native. They out-compete our native cavity nesting birds and have been the main culprit for the decline of bluebirds and purple martins (which now nest mainly in man-made nest boxes).
dark eyed junco78
Dark-eyed Junco
  • Family: Emberizidae, the towhees, sparrows, longspurs and Emberiza buntings.
  • Winter resident. Found from October-April in Kansas. Feeds primarily on the ground.
  • Seed eater—readily eats sunflower seed, and generally eats on the ground below feeders.
american tree sparrow81
American Tree Sparrow
  • Family: Emberizidae, a large family that includes the sparrows
  • Winter resident
  • Typically has the dark spot on breast
white throated sparrow83
White-throated Sparrow
  • Family: Emberizidae, a large family that includes the sparrows
  • Winter resident
  • Large, long-tailed sparrow with striking black and white stripes on the crown.
  • KEY MARK: Has yellow lores (between beak and eyes)
white crowned sparrow85
White-crowned Sparrow
  • Family: Emberizidae, a large family that includes the sparrows
  • Winter resident
  • Large, long-tailed sparrow with striking black and white stripes on the crown.
  • Birds in Kansas, Volumes I and II, by Max Thompson and Charles Ely.
  • National Geographic Field Guide to North American Birds.
  • Kauffman Focus Guide to North American Birds.
references cont
References, cont.
  • Peterson Field Guide to Eastern Birds, Fourth Edition, 1980, by Roger Tory Peterson
  • Peterson Field Guide to Advanced Birding, 1990, by Kenn Kaufman
  • “Educators Guide to Bird Study”, Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology, accessed May 3, 2007, online at http://www.birds.cornell.edu/schoolyard/index.html
  • Kansas Ornithological Society Checklist of Birds, 10th edition, 2003, accessed May 3, 2007, online at http://www.ksbirds.org/kos/kos_pubs.html