Ready to try your hand at bird watching? There’s no better place than Patagonia, with it’s grand diversity of ecosystems and habitat. You can improve your chances of success by paying attention to these simple tips:
Watch the Bird – not the book! When you spot a bird, take the time to watch the bird, making mental notes of its songs, habits, size and markings. Take advantage of your time with the bird and once it leaves, jot down notes and sketches of everything you remember.
Listen closely. Sometimes, surrounded by the sounds of nature, you forget to pay attention to the unique vocalizations of birds. Remember to listen to the bird’s song as you watch; this is one of the best tools for identification.
Size and Shape are the place to start. Basic characteristics of your bird include their general size and shape. These aspects are important to note and will help you to determine the correct family. In comparison with the common birds you are used to seeing, how would you classify your new friend? Is it bigger than a sparrow? A duck? An ostrich!?! Next, imagine the outline of the bird as a silhouette. What is the shape of its body? Does it fly? How does it move when on the ground? Would you describe it as being agile or unsteady?
Note the details; bills and marks. Once you’ve got the basics, begin to focus in on the details. Just like with humans, start with the face. What does the bill look like? Would you describe it as straight or curved? Flat or cone shaped? What kinds of markings are on the face of the bird? Look for unique details relating to color bands, outlines around the eyes, neck color and markings, arcs around the eyes, hoods, a crest of feathers, etc.
Move on down…wings and tails. Once you’ve finished with the head, begin to move along the body of the bird, noting distinctive characteristics of shape, color and marking relating to the body, wings and tail. You are likely to notice important distinctions when the bird begins to fly away. Note the color of its back and body, as well as distinctive stripes or color bands. Is the tail of the bird forked, rounded or squared? How long is it in relation to the body of the bird? Is it held upright or straight back?
Study the bird's legs. What is their length and color? The feet of the bird are important tools that provide clues as to its primary behaviors. If you have the chance to view the bird’s feet, notice if they are webbed or if they have talons.
Remember that old saying, “You are what you eat”. Hopefully, you will have an opportunity to see some of the birds you observe as they eat. Notice whether they search for their food within the bark of the trees or instead, fish for food by swaying their beaks or diving in water, forage for insects and seeds on the ground, forage for food amongst already dead animals they encounter or hunt and kill small animals such as rodents.
Put it in context. Where did you see this bird? Jot down a few notes about the place where you spotted your specimen, the type of natural features that were around, the weather, and the date.
Solve the case! By now, you’ve captured all the critical clues to solve your grand mystery. Utilize your notes and observations, with a bird guide of the region, to determine the type of bird you have observed.
A couple of good guides include:
- Jaramillo, 2003. Birds of Chile, printed by Princeton Field Guides
- Costa y Punta, 2009. Field Guide to the Flora & Fauna of the Glaciares National Park. firstname.lastname@example.org.
- On the Internet, we recommend www.avesdechile.cl.