Simple Tips for Novice Bird Watching

Posted by on Apr 30, 2013 in Blog | Comments Off on Simple Tips for Novice Bird Watching

Nebraska is a vast and welcoming habitat to a remarkable quantity of unique and distinct bird species. From waterfowl and wading birds of Nebraska’s lakes and rivers, to an extensive and varied collection of songbirds, game birds, swifts, raptors, and nighthawks, there exists a highly developed identification system to aid bird watchers in the recognition of specific bird species.

Bird watching is a recreational activity that can be enjoyed at many levels. While advanced bird watchers might carry a collection of expensive equipment—binoculars, photography apparatus, bird calls, etc.—along with them when they embark on a bird watching mission, the first or second time bird watcher need only a simple bird identification guide book, or perhaps these simple tips for novice birding from the Sandhills Motel and Glidden Canoe Rental.


Field marks are very specific details about the bird’s appearance—such as plumage, eye-rings, or breast—that can distinguish between two or three very similar species of birds. Leave the field marks and the very finite identifications for the experienced bird watching professionals. For the novice bird watcher, try sticking to simple detection of larger bird groups. You can slowly work your way into more detailed classification as your skills progress.

Since we’re starting with the basics, the following four keys can help the novice bird watcher to break into the activity at a slow and steady pace:

1. Habitat. Habitat is one of the easiest and most observable keys to visual identification. After all, you can ascertain the habitat of a bird watching mission before even spotting a bird for identification. Make a thorough description of your habitat before you really begin hunting for the birds that live within it. Bird habitats range anywhere from woodlands, prairies, and marshes, to orchards, city parks, and tree-lined suburban areas.
2. Behavior. You’ve spotted your first bird from a distance, but you’re still too far to notice up close details. Therefore, ask yourself: does it flit solo from tree to tree, or does it fly high in a migratory flock? Does it feed on the ground like a Nebraska prairie chicken, or does it catch insects from the water? Another enjoyable bird trait: does it sing? Each of these questions is important to consider. Jot them down as soon as you observe each little distinctive behavioral trait.
3. Size & Shape. If you’re able to track your bird and zero in at a closer distance, you can begin identifying sizes and distinctive shapes. Some bird groups have tiny bodies and large heads. Others are large, with straight bills and curved crests, or flat-headed with a notched tail. Take note of the defining sizes and shapes that make up the general composition of the bird you’ve sighted.
4. Colors & Pattern. While out birding in the field, one of the joys of bird watching is in the brilliant colors they often display. However, specific colors and patterns can be difficult to ascertain unless you’re able to get a relatively close look. If you can do just that, there’s nothing quite like the striking blue of a Jay or the brilliant red cap of certain types of woodpeckers. Try to identify colors in the birds plumage while taking special notice of patterns, such as stripes, color blocking, speckles, or spots.

Progressing through this list of simple keys for visual identification can help you slowly break into the exciting world of bird watching. Our number one tip for novice birding? Start slow and don’t hold yourself to the high standards of experienced bird watchers. After all, one of the greatest benefits derived from a bird watching excursion is the opportunity to immerse oneself in nature and find simple joy hidden in the environment.

The Sandhills Motel and Glidden Canoe rental is a premium bird watching location in the Sandhills of central Nebraska. Bird watching beginners will love introducing themselves into the activity with a guided viewing of our native Sharptail Grouse and Prairie Chicken mating rituals. To learn more, click here.