Birding is an Awesome Hobby: Here are 5 Reasons Why

You may be surprised to learn that one of the fastest growing outdoor hobbies is birding. Birding is defined as the observation of birds in their natural habitats as a hobby. Once thought of as an activity reserved for retirees, birding is starting to catch on with a whole new generation, because as it turns out, birding is awesome, and these are the top five reasons why.

Birding takes you to unique places


Something great about birding is that it can take you to a variety of places. Birds live in pretty much every environment and location imaginable, so there’s no shortage of locations to visit. Many of them are beautiful and scenic, while others are urban and populous. State parks, natural areas, large cities and backyard bird feeders are all places people go to find birds. Sometimes the most memorable birding trips can be the ones involving the most ecclectic places that you woudn’t have gone to if not for the birds. Birding is essentially a scavenger hunt that takes place in every corner of the world so who knows what strange and wonderful place you will end up visisting because of it.

Horicon Marsh
Horicon Marsh

Birding can be low cost


In terms of cost effective hobbies, birding can be at the top of the list. It’s totally free to go outside and take a walk, or stay inside and look out the window. Otherwise a state park sticker and the cost of gasoline can open up a lot of possibilities on a small budget. That being said, there can be some aspects of birding that are more on the pricey side. Buying gear like cameras, scopes, and binoculars can certainly be expensive, but those types of items are typically one time or infrequent purchases and while helpful, they are not necessary to be a birder. The good news is that to participate in birding, the costs can be minimal to non existent depending on what you want to do.

Birding can be social


While some people love the solitutde of birding by themselvs, there are also many who love the social aspect of birding. Just like any community, the birding community has many forums, message boards and groups, both online and in person to participate in. Chances are, there is some sort of bird club or ornithological society nearby and even if there isn’t there are almost certainly other birders nearby that can be found via facebook or other social media sites. Whether you’re looking for a tight knit group to go birding with our a larger community to share ideas with, you can certainly find it.

Birding can be competitive


While many people think of birding as a leisurly activity, it can actually be quite competitive. The Big Year is a birding competition in which people try to find as many bird species as they can in a calendar year. While this type of bird competition can be a long grind, others are more fast paced such as big day competitions where birders try and find as many species as they can in a single day. There are also birding records that include the first person to see a bird in a particular county or state as well as life list totals. If there is something that can be quantified in birding, chances are that someone has started a competition around it. For people that are competitive and love nature, birding can be an incredible hobby.

Fox Sparrow
Fox Sparrow

Birding can be what you want it to be


Undoubtedly one of the best things about birding is that it is what you make it. Since there are so many different fascets to the hobby, there is something for everyone and each individual can find a niche that suits them. Since there are no firm rules governing the hobby it really is up to each person to make birding what they want it to be. If they want to be a competitive lister, bird photographer, or casual feeder watcher it’s all under the umbrella of birding.


Although birding is starting to gain traction as a main stream hobby, some people have predicted that birding is about to get much more popular, and It makes sense that it would. There are so many things about birding that make it an incredibly fun hobby for people of all ages and skill levels that it’s only a matter of time before the secret gets out. Do you know people who would enjoy birding? Send them this article and get them started on their journey.

House Finch vs Purple Finch

For many birders and feeder watchers, the identification of House Finches and Purple Finches can be a challenge. While these species do look very similar, when regarding the fine ID points of the two, they can be significantly easier to distinguish.

Range

The first thing to consider when trying to make a positive ID between these two birds is the range. The House Finch has an interesting range with populations in the western United States separated from those in the eastern United States. This species is non migratory and will stick around bird feeders year round.

House Finch Range Map

Unlike the House Finch, the Purple Finch is migratory and spends much of the year in southern Canada with some of them staying year round in California and parts of the midwest and north east. During winter, Purple Finches move into the lower 48 states from the plains states east to the Atlantic Ocean. Just how far this species moves down is dependent on the availability of cone crops in the north and will vary each year.

Purple Finch Range Map

While there are a few places where it is possible to determine these species based on range, there are many more places where they overlap. This makes range a somewhat unreliable factor to consider.

Shape

When looking at the overall appearance of these two species, there are some size and shape differences that can be helpful to note. House Finches will look slimmer, have a more rounded head, and a more shallow notch in their tail. Also, the upper mandible on the bill of the House Finch is more curved than that of the Purple Finch.

The Purple Finch will look more bulky with a more crested head, and deeper notch on the tail. The bill of the Purple Finch will also look bulkier and the upper mandible will be straighter.

Coloration and Field Markings

Male House Finch and Purple Finch

While size and shape can be somewhat subjective, the field markings and overall coloration of these two species can be used to make a positive ID with more reliability.

The House Finch has a red, orange, or yellow color on their head and breast. This color does not typically extend to the back and wings. The wing bars of the House Finch are light colored and the underside is streaked with dark brown.

The male Purple Finch will have an rosy-pink or “wine stained” appearance that covers most of its body including the neck and back. They have rosy wing bars as opposed to the light colored wing bars of the House Finch. The Purple Finch will also have less or no dark streaking on their lower stomach.

Female House Finch and Purple Finch

The females of these two species can also be distinguished with field markings. The female House Finch has little to no marking by the eye as opposed to the female Purple Finch that has a bright eye stripe. The female House Finch will also have a more blurred looking chest and underside while the Purple Finch will have more defined streaking.

Overall

Most birders will encounter one or both of these species at some point, and knowing the fine ID points of each can be instrumental in discerning between them. House Finch males will be slimmer with a rounded head and smaller notch in their tail. Their upper bill will be more curved and they will be red, orange, or yellowish with the color only being on the head or chest. Last but not least, House Finches will have brown streaking on their lower underside. House Finch females will not have a light eye stripe and will have blurred streaking on their chest and underside.

Male Purple Finches will be bulkier with a more crested appearance and a deeper notch in their tail. They will have a thick and straighter looking bill and will be a wine stained color. Their colore will appear to wash over most of the body leading to their wing bars also being rosy looking. A Purple Finch will have little to n dark streaking on their lower underside. Female Purple finches will have a bright eye stripe and defined streaking on their Chet and underside.

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Loggerhead Shrike vs Northern Shrike

Shrikes are incredibly fascinating birds. While they may look cute, they are actually quite fierce and use their sharp, hooked bills to catch and tear apart prey. 

In North America there are two species of shrikes; the Loggerhead and the Northern. At first glance these two species look remarkably similar, but when taking into account a few ID features, it becomes significantly easier to distinguish one from the other.

Range

One of the first things to keep in mind about these two species is that they each have a different range. The Loggerhead Shrike inhabits most of the southern U.S. and Mexico throughout most of the year. Some of them migrate north during the breeding months and can go as far north as Canada.

As its name suggests, the Northern Shrike spends most of its time in the Northern parts of the continent. They summer in Canada and Alaska, coming down into the lower 48 states during winter. 

Due to their ranges, it can be possible to determine which species is most likely based on location, but in many instances both species may be around as their ranges overlap in certain parts of the year.

Bill

Bill is one of the physical features that can be used to tell these two species apart with some reliability. Loggerhead Shrikes typically have a completely black bill, while Northern Shrikes typically have lighter colors at the base of the bill. Others have also stated that Northern Shrikes have a larger bill than Loggerhead Shrikes but this may be subjective.

Loggerhead Shrike
Northern Shrike
Northern Shrike

Note the completely dark bill of the Loggerhead shrike above compared to the light lower mandible of the Northern Shrike.

Mask

The black mask covering the eyes of these two species is one of the most useful things to look at when trying to discern which species you are looking at. The Loggerhead Shrike has a thick mask that goes from the base of the bill to well past the eye. Northern Shrikes also have a black mask but it is noticeably thinner than that of the Loggerhead. This thin mask of the Northern Shrike shows white above the eye that is either lesser or non existent in Loggerhead Shrikes

Loggerhead Shrike
Northern Shrike – Photo by Lorri Howski

Note the thick black mask, clean white underside, and overall darker appearance of the Loggerhead Shrike above compared to the thin mask, barred chest, and overall frostier appearance of the Northern Shrike below.

Chest

At first glance these two species may look to have the same colors on their chest, they are actually noticeably different when taking a closer look. The Loggerhead Shrike is known to have a clean white chest and underside with the exception of the juveniles which show more barring. The Northern Shrike however, shows faint gray or brown barring as adults. This barring on the chest can be a key feature to look for in the field when needing to make a quick ID.

Overall

The general appearance of the Loggerhead Shrike will be darker with cleaner looking features while the Northern Shrike appears lighter and more frosty 

Loggerhead Shrike vs Northern Shrike
Loggerhead Shrike vs Northern Shrike

While these two species are certainly very similar in appearance, when taking all of the ID features into account, it becomes significantly easier to make a positive ID.

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Small-billed Elaenia in Illinois: Chasing a Mega Rarity

In the birding world, one of the driving forces is rarity. When something shows up that is far outside its normal range it becomes a huge event that ripples through the community. Sometimes these birds come from teh other side of the country, but other times they come from an entirely different continent. This was the case when an unexpected species was found in Waukegan Illinois.

As far as rarities in the midwest go, few in recent memory compare to the small-billed Elaenia. The species lives exclusively in South America, and only a couple of individuals have ever been reported in North America; making it one of the rarest birds in the entire country. 
Joining me on this quest were my friends and fellow Wisconsin birders Rob and Eric.

We arrived at the beach where the Elaenia had been previously reported. The bird had been hanging out in a thick bunch of trees and shrubs consisting of yews and cedars. We located the spot and waited for it to make an appearance as birders from all over the country began trickling in. Soon we were joined by around 20 other people and the stake out was officially underway.

We watched and waited, without detecting any movement from the shrubs. We even took a few breaks to check the lake and other parts of the beach just in case the elania had moved somewhere else. We found American goldfinches, european starlings, and a double crested cormorant. but still had yet to see any traces of our target bird. 

It was starting to seem like the Elaenia may not show, nonetheless we settling back in to our stake out position with the rest of the group, when we started noticing some movements coming from the plants. To our chagrin, an American Robin popped out from the shrubs quelling any hope we had that the Elaenia was there. But then, we saw the Robin chase another smaller bird deep in the yews. Knowing that a second bird was present, we gained new resolve to find out what it was.

After a while, we decided that if the Elaenia was in fact in the thick yews, we would need to move closer in order to see it. When we got up to the fence directly in front of the thickets, we realized that the Elaenia was right in the middle of the branches, and had probably been there the whole time.

At first, it stayed concealed  allowing for only obscured and blurry views, but then, it moved toward us, giving us better looks than we ever thought we could get. 

The Small-billed Elaenia is a member of the flycatcher family with a light olive colored back, gray underside, and yellowish wash. It has a visible white eye ring and three distinct light colored wing bars which seperate this bird from other similar species. The small-billed elaena lives in woodlands and edge habitat in South America. They typically breed in the southern half of the continent and migrate north to Ecuador, Columbia, and Venezuela during the winter. Small-billed Elaenias are listed as a species of least concern in their native range, but this to North American birders, this small, dull looking flycatcher is a once in a lifetime find.

Feeling incredibly satisfied with our views of the Elaenia, we headed out. It’s funny to think about how much of an impact a missplaced bird can have on a group of people. Undoubtedly, the arrival of the Small-billed Elaenia has created a lot of excitment in the North American birding community, and like us, many people now have stories to tell about their trip to see this modest looking bird.

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Rare Birds in November

While 2020 has been a year filled with turmoil and strife for many people, for birders in Wisconsin, this year has provided numerous rare birds. This trend continued in November when two Brants were reported within weeks of each other.

I made the nearly two hour trip up to Manitowoc in hopes of getting a look at the Brant that had been frequenting the impoundment. While the air temperature wasn’t particularly cold the high speed winds made it feel chilly. I walked out to the area where the bird was being seen to find several birds loafing around in the shallow water and on the mudflats. Among them were American Coots, Canada Geese, Northern Shovelers, and Greater Yellowlegs. The sun was in my eyes making it hard to see, but from what I could tell, the Brant wasn’t mixed in with this assorted group of birds.

Brant

I continued walking south around the impoundment until I rounded the corner and saw a single bird sitting near a puddle. To my surprise it was the Brant! It was extremely close to the path and occasionally looked up from eating grass. I took several pictures and videos before moving around the rest of the impoundment. On my way back I encountered two Wilson’s Snipes along with a White-tailed Deer that was swimming out in the lake.

A few weeks later I followed a report of a Red Phalarope in Dane County. Knowing I had to go to work later in the dat, I made the quick decision to try for it. I drove the hour west under cloudy and ominous looking skies and got to the boat launch where the bird had been reported. To my delight I saw other birders pointing cameras at the lake.

Red Phalarope

As I got closer, I saw the small bird twirling around in the water no more than five feet off shore. It seemed to have very little to no fear of the birders present and went about its business feeding in what must have been fairly cold water. The Red Phalarope is the rarest of the three Phalaropes that make visits to Wisconsin and it was amazing to see a rare bird at such close range.

With all of the craziness that life has thrown at us this November it was great to be able to get lost in the chase and find some year birds.

The Finches are Coming?

Each year, certain migratory birds in North America make the trip south to their wintering grounds. This journey takes place every year in roughly the same pattern. So much so, that one can almost plan their calendar according to the arrival and departure of a certain species. However, there is another migration that takes place in a much different way: the winter finch migration.

Winter finches reside in the northern forests of Canada during summer and often move around in fall and winter. However, they don’t migrate in the same patterns as other bird species. In fact they don’t even repeat the same pattern from one year to the next.

Red Crossbill
Red Crossbill

The term “irruption” is often used to describe mass migrations of some of these northern species into the United States. In years past, birders have noticed increased numbers of certain winter finch species (Inlcluding Crossbills, Evening Grosbeaks, Pine Siskins and more) in some winters, while in other winters, North America’s conifer forests stand untouched by these birds.

Part of the mystery of winter finches is that for the longest time, it was unclear which species would irrupt (if any) on a given year and what the cause was for these large flights of birds moving across the continent. It turns out there is actually a singular driving force to the movements of these birds: food.

Purple Finch
Purple Finch

The best way to predict which winter finch species are going to be moving south is by analyzing each species preferred food source in the north. In particular, many of these birds feed on conifer cones. When cone crops are low, these nomadic birds migrate to other areas in search of food. Enter the winter finch forecast.

Each year experts (originally Ron Pittaway and now Tyler Hoar of Ontario Field Ornithologists) put together a detailed picture of which northern conifer crops are high and low in Canada, and therefore which finch species are expected to irrupt and move into the United states. What is particularly interesting about these finch species is that each one seems to prefer a different type of conifer seed as its dietary staple. Thus, understanding the movements of a particular species is somewhat of a scientific art form. This report has become an annual treat that is highly anticipated by birders excited by the prospect of seeing these colorful birds dotting the winter landscape.

White-winged Crossbills
White-winged Crossbills

The winter finch forecast usually comes out in the middle of September and provides an excellent sneak preview of what to expect as far as the types of birds you’re likely to see come fall and winter. You can find this exciting report by going to the Finch Research Network , joining the finches, irruptions, and mast crops Facebook group, or by waiting until someone in your local birding community posts it.

Note: In addition to the winter finches, the forecast also includes clues to other irruptive and nomadic species too such as Red-breasted Nuthatches and Bohemian Waxwings.

Red Knot in Manitowoc

On Sunday I took my friend Ashlee up to the Manitowoc lake front in search of some migrating shorebirds. Over the past week there had been multiple rare birds reported there including a Buff-breasted Sandpiper and a Red Knot. In addition, Manitowoc has some very pretty views along the lake which make it a great spot to visit even if the birds there are common.

When we arrived, there was a cool breeze blowing across the harbor and with air temperatures around 68 degrees (perfect for a September day in Wisconsin.) We walked the concrete path out over the water and before we even got to our birding spot, encountered two minks darting around the rocks catching Round Gobies. The minks must have been used to people as they made no qualms about being out in the open and even sometimes seeming to investigate the onlookers.

Mink
Mink

We continued to the end of the concrete path where we could see a lot of what appeared to be freshly dredged substrate. The peeps were out working the edges of the mounds of soil and puddles that dotted the landscape. The first birds we noticed on the mud flats were the usual Pectoral Sandpipers, Semipalmated Sandpipers, and Least Sandpipers. In addition to these birds in the foreground were Greater and Lesser Yellowlegs hanging out near the water in the back along with two American White Pelicans.

As we scoured the numerous birds feeding, we saw there were actually numerous Stilt Sandpipers and Semipalmated Plovers mixed in on the north side of the mud flats. As we looked closer, we noticed a dull gray bird that seemed different than anything else we saw there. This bird was round and stout with a stubbier bill than the nearby Stilt Sandpipers and had a faint white stripe over the eye. While it was missing it’s namesake reddish orange breeding plumage, this was in fact the Red Knot!

Red Knot

We watched the Red Knot for a while, getting some really nice looks at it before moving on. We decided to climb the rocks that lined the impoundment. Years ago these rocks were extremely easy to walk on as they were large and flat, but now, the lake had eroded large chunks of them away making it a bit more of an adventure. We rounded the bay where the shorebirds were and worked our way south on the rocks. Caspian Terns called overhead and Spotted Sandpipers flew from rock to rock as we walked by.

Eventually we made our way back to our original spot where most of the shorebirds were. A Great Blue Heron stood watch over the shorebirds and we found a buffy colored Baird’s Sandpiper among the peeps. The Red Knot was nowhere to be found when we checked the second time so we were very glad to have seen it the first time around.

Overall, it was an absolutely beautiful day in early September to be out birding and Ashlee and I enjoyed ourselves checking out the shorebirds and exploring Manitowoc.

The 7 Best Bird Species for De-Extinction

Disclaimer: This article does not discuss the ethics of de-extinction. It is only meant to spark interest and debate about potential candidates. 

In the natural world, there is no event more tragic than the extinction of an entire species. Since the 1960s more than 700 species of plants and animals have disappeared from the Earth, thought to never be seen again. Whereas extinction used to be finality, now there may be hope to one day see these creatures again through the process of de-extinction. De-extinction is the generation of an organism that is extinct. This process can be done through cloning, genome editing, and/or selective breeding.

While some of the most talked about animals to be brought back are large mammals such as the Tasmanian Tiger or Wooly Mammoth, some of the most realistic possibile candidates are birds. Here are the top seven birds that could potentially be brought back from extinction.

7. Great Auk

This large, penguin-like bird could be once found in the waters of the north Atlantic from the shores of Canada all the way to Western Europe. Humans are almost entirely to blame for the extinction of the Great Auk as it was hunted for its meat and down that was used for pillows. By the middle of the 16th century, this bird had been all but wiped out from the coasts of Europe. In 1835 the last colony of Great Auks was killed in Iceland on the island of Eldey for their skins, desired by museums. 78 Great Auk skins and 24 complete skeletons still exist, and cells could potentially be used for DNA extraction.

Great Auk

6. Labrador Duck

This sea duck was a migratory North American bird species that wintered off the coasts of New England and bred in Labrador and Quebec, Canada. This particular species seems to have already been rare at the time that Europeans arrived in the new world. As a result, not much is known about their life and habits. It is thought that harvesting of Labrador Duck eggs may have been a strong contributor to their eventual disappearance late in the 19th century. Their extinction is recent enough that specimens of this bird still exist and DNA could potentially be gathered.

Labrador Duck

5. Dusky Seaside Sparrow

The Dusky Seaside Sparrow was a Seaside Sparrow subspecies that lived in the Merritt Island salt marshes in Florida. It was known for its dark plumage and distinct song that separated it from other seaside sparrows. The cause of the Dusky Seaside Sparrow’s extinction is entirely due to habitat destruction. Merritt Island was flooded to reduce the mosquito population around the Kennedy Space Center. Later on, the marshes were drained due to highway construction. These two events destroyed much of the nesting habitat of these birds and led to their demise. The last known Dusky Seaside Sparrow died in 1987, but other subspecies still remain and could hold latent genes that could bring this bird back, or at the very least, a bird that has the same dark plumage.

Dusky Seaside Sparrow

4. Ivory-billed Woodpecker

One of the most legendary birds on this list, the Ivory-billed Woodpecker is presumed extinct. However, sightings in the past few decades lend credence to the idea that some individuals could still be alive somewhere deep in the wilderness. The Ivory-billed Woodpecker is/was one of the largest woodpeckers in the world and possibly went extinct due to habitat destruction. The last accepted sighting was in 1944 in Louisiana. It is something of an icon as birders and ornithologists continue to mount expeditions to capture proof of its continued existence. A better option could potentially be cloning, as its extinction was in the last century and relatives of the species, including the Pileated Woodpecker, still thrive.

Ivory-billed Woodpecker

3. Dodo Bird

The Dodo Bird has become synonymous with extinction. Living on the island of Mauritius off the coast of Madagascar, the Dodo was a large flightless bird that had no natural predators. This became problematic when sailors arrived and not only hunted the Dodo for food, but also brought invasive animals with them that killed Dodos and ravaged their nests. This bird went extinct sometime in the late 1600s and reports of their actual extinction date vary. With bones and some soft tissue samples remaining, the Dodo could someday make a reappearance if they are chosen as a de-extinction candidate.

Dodo

2. Carolina Parakeet

Large flocks of Carolina Parakeets used to inhabit North America from New England all the way to the Mississippi River. These brightly colored and noisy birds moved and socialized in large flocks which may have partially led to their downfall. Carolina Parakeets were hunted for the feather trade and also to eliminate their numbers as they were considered to be a pest to farmers. Their social behavior made it all too easy to destroy entire flocks of birds at a time. Other causes of their extinction included habitat loss and disease. These birds essentially disappeared from the wild by the year 1904, and the last captive specimen died in 1918. There is hope, however, as DNA has been extracted from remaining skins and skeletons.

Carolina Parakeet

1. Passenger Pigeon

One of the most famous extinct animal species; the Passenger Pigeon, quite literally went from millions to none. At their peak, these members of the dove family spread from the Rocky Mountains, east to the Atlantic Coast. The chief cause of their rapid extinction was large-scale hunting as well as land clearing. Much like the Carolina Parakeet, the social flocking behavior of the Passenger Pigeon made it an easy target for hunters. The last Passenger Pigeon (named Martha) died in captivity in 1914. Since then, the Passenger Pigeon has become the poster-child for ecological preservation as it is proof that a species that was once extremely numerous is not impervious to extinction. It is possible that it could also be one of the flagship species to be cloned as enough DNA may exist to recreate the bird’s genome, and it has close relatives that are still alive and well (for now).

Passenger Pigeon

While the disappearance of any species is truly disheartening, there is hope that they may be brought back into existence. With scientists working on ways to synthesize genetic material, it seems like it’s only a matter of time before we will be able to see some of these birds in the flesh for the first time this century.

All photos public domain except for “Dusky Seaside Sparrow” by Wildlife Management Areas. https://flic.kr/p/N7Beef

Neotropic Cormorant vs. Double-crested Cormorant

Every spring, large flocks of dark-colored, long-necked birds make their way across North America: Double crested Cormorants. Due to their distinctive shape, these birds are easy to identify in the marshes and lakes that they inhabit. However, there is another cormorant species that occasionally makes its way north from central and south America that looks incredibly similar to its double-crested relative: The Neotropic Cormorant.

In most places in the United states, with the exception of some southern states, the Neotropic Cormorant is extremely uncommon. For that reason, it pays to know what to look for in order to find a rare species or simply to differentiate them from Double-crested Cormorants in states where the two species regularly overlap.

Size

The first thing to look at is the size and shape. Neotropic Cormorants are shorter and sleeker than Double-crested Cormorants with an average 61cm height, and a wingspan of 102 cm compared to the 70 to 90 cm height and 114 to 123 cm wingspan of the Double-crested Cormorant. In addition to the basic size difference, the Neotropic Cormorant’s tail will appear longer (compared to its body) than the Double-crested Cormorant’s tail. These characteristics are most noticeable in flight when directly compared to the other cormorant species but can also be seen when the birds are perched.

Size Comparison
The Double-crested Cormorant on the left appears larger than the Neotropic Cormorant on the right

Lore Color

Size can be difficult to determine without a direct comparison to other nearby birds. Fortunately, there are some other field marks that can be used to distinguish these two species. First, note the lores (just above the bill, going from the eye to the bill) on the Double-crested Cormorant. Both juveniles and adults display yellow to orange colored lores. In Neotropic Cormorant, the lores are significantly darker. When comparing these two next to each other, there is actually a significant difference.

Double-crested Cormorant
Note the bright orange lore, 90 degree angle of the gular, and the  lack of white around the gular on this Double-crested Cormorant

Gular

Another important area to note on these birds is the gular (which is essentially the upper throat). Both species have orange or yellowish gulars, but the shape is different depending on  the species. If you look carefully, you can see that the Neotropic Cormorant has a gular that angles toward the bill in an acute angle. The gular on the Double-crested Cormorant angles far less, and in many instances makes a 90 degree angle.

Another field mark birders regularly use to distinguish these species is the white triangular marking that lines the gular on the Neotropic cormorant. It’s very obvious in adults but less visible in juveniles.

Neotropic Cormorant
Note the dark lore, acute angle of the gular, and white triangle around the gular on this Neotropic Cormorant

Review

It can be really difficult to make a positive ID based on just one characteristic between these two species. For that reason, it’s best to look at all the field markings. As a whole, an adult Neotropic Cormorant will have a smaller, sleeker stature, a longer tail, dark lores, a gular that acutely angles in toward the bill, and a white triangular marking around the gular. An adult Double-crested Cormorant will be larger and blockier, have a shorter, stubbier tale, brightly colored lores, a gular that is less angled near the mouth, and no white triangle mark around the gular.

A Double-crested Cormorant can be identified by regarding these characteristics:

Larger size
Bulkier Appearance
Brightly colored lores
More obtuse angle where the gular meets the throat
Lack of white around the gular

A Neotropic Cormorant can be identified by the characteristics below

Smaller size
Sleeker appearance
Dark lores
Acute angle where the gular meets the throat
White triangle marking around the gular in adults

With these traits in mind, it becomes much easier to differentiate between these two species. We hope you found this post helpful. Be sure to like and subscribe for more ID tips, and leave a comment below if there are any specific species you would like to see an ID tips about.

Adult Neotropic Cormorant photo by Gary Leavens

 

Harris’s Sparrow in Ozaukee County

On January 17th I heard that a Harris’s Sparrow had been seen by the bird feeders at the Mequon Nature Preserve in Ozaukee County, WI. A day later I decided to make the 50 minute trip north to see if I could find this rare bird.

The Harris’s Sparrow breeds in Northern Canada and can reach as far south as Texas in winter. Their normal range is between the Rocky Mountains and the Mississippi River but each year, a few individuals stray into other parts of the country such as Wisconsin, where a handful of reports come in each year.

With a blizzard the night before, I felt confident that the bird had stayed put and would be looking to the feeders at the preserve for food. When I arrived and got out of the car some light snow was falling and the wind made being outside unpleasant to say the least. A snow removal worker was plowing snow off the parking lot and shoveling the sidewalks and pathways. I walked around the east side of the building and a small flock of American Tree Sparrows and Dark-eyed Juncos flushed from some nearby bushes. I scanned through them, hoping to see the Harris’s among them. No luck this time. I went around to the north side where some bird feeders were. Several birds were actively feeding, including more Juncos and Tree Sparrows and some noisy House Sparrows.

I continued around the building, coming to the west side where there was one feeder and a couple of Black-capped Chickadees, but nothing else. I knew at this point it would be a waiting game.

Harris' Sparrow
Harris’s Sparrow on beams

I made a few more laps around the building when suddenly there was a larger flock of birds at the feeder to the west. Among the smaller birds I had already seen was one that was slightly larger. It had a black cap and white chest with a bright orange beak: It was the Harris’s Sparrow! Just as soon as it had appeared it took off across the road into the shrubs where it seemingly vanished. Feeling unsatisfied with my second-long encounter, I waited longer, thinking it would be back again at some point. As I waited, several other birds came and joined in the search.

It was nearly an hour of people with cameras and binoculars milling around and checking feeders until the sparrow returned. When it did, it stayed in the bushes near the feeder, occasionally moving around. From time to time it would fly up on some wood beams attached to the building. It gave pretty good lucks but was almost always obscured by branches and twigs.

Other birds seen were a flyby Cooper’s Hawk and a surprise flyover Glaucous Gull.