When you are out and about, at times you will find it hard to identify smaller birds as they move through the foliage. Many of these birds are beautiful and it is enjoyable to be able to watch and identify them. However, there are some simple techniques that you can easily apply when faced with a strange bird that will help you to at least narrow down the possibilities. Once you have reduced the number of likely birds it becomes much easier to make an identification.
So – when faced with an unknown bird, how do you go about narrowing down the possibilities?
Size – try and compare it to what you know Colour – uniform shade or does it have markings or patches of colour Bill – short and thick, short and pointy, curved Habitat – on the ground, low foliage, higher up in a tree Behaviour – feeding on flowers, foraging on the ground Call – many species have distinctive calls, best checked via an App
Where to start
Let us take an example. Whilst walking near some dense vegetation you see some small brown birds (often called LBJs or Little Brown Jobs) that you are not sure about. These are often the hardest for beginners and experienced birders alike! Answers to some of the above questions can quickly narrow it down. For example, if the bird is very small (smaller than a sparrow) and the bill is short and thick then you can immediately narrow it down to a pardalote or a weebill but if it is thin and pointy, a thornbill. If it is noisy and active, likely a honeyeater.
The “Thorn bill” is a good name for most – short and pointy like a thorn. Habitat is a good guide – Brown – in foliage often low. Striated – usually higher up in trees
Finch – very solid bill. Seed eater with the strength to crack seeds. Generally on the ground because that is where the seeds are.
Pardalotes and Weebills have a short, solid bill. Spotted – the name says it all. Weebills – in foliage
Honeyeaters have long bills – and if you are lucky, to see their very long brush-like tongues – to assist in collecting nectar from flowers.
Pigeons are also seed eaters and often on the ground. Bill adapted to cracking seeds.
This is a walk through dense, wet forest. The path leads you through a mix of vegetation ranging from tall Messmate and Stringybark trees to stands of Banksia and extensive patches of ferns as well as stream side plants.
Early on in the walk you will enter a grove of Banksias which have beautiful yellow cones when in flower, which tends to be from autumn onwards. Honeyeaters are attracted to the nectar and you are likely to see groups of Crescent, Lewins and New Holland Honeyeaters along with Eastern Spinebills.
In spring and summer you are likely to hear the beautiful calls of Rufous and Golden Whistlers throughout the forest. The males stand out with their distinctive colours, but the females are more subdued and tend to blend in more.
Flitting around the lower foliage you could see our two fantails. The Grey Fantail will often come close to an observer if you stay still as it hawks for insects. They have even been known to grab at your hair for nesting material. The Rufous Fantail is more cautious and you need patience to get good views of this bird as it tends to stay in the denser sections of foliage.
High up in the trees various parrots and cockatoos can be seen and heard. The creaking calls of the Gang Gang Cockatoo can be heard as the move through the forest. Whilst feeding they tend to be quiet and hard to see but gum nuts falling from the trees can be a giveaway. The Yellow-tailed Black Cockatoo is much easier to see as they make quite a racket as they fly. The Crimson Rosella has a much more musical and varied call and you will see them all though this area.
Gang Gang and Yellow-tailed Cockatoos and Crimson Rosella
All along this walk you you will hear the creek flowing in background. At various points you can descend to the edge and this is always worthwhile to see different birds such as White-browed Scrubwrens, Brown Thornbills and Superb Fairy Wrens.