Having trouble identifying birds?

Sometimes I get questions from readers about identifying the birds they are seeing.

All birders have this problem in varying degrees. Here is a comment posted yesterday about this very issue:

I’m still very new to trying to ID birds, and while I pick out the most distinctive features to keep to memory, often my bird book still doesn’t include the bird I see, or the picture isn’t quite right. Sometimes I remember to take the camera with me, and this helps plenty with identifying the birds later. While I enjoy just watching birds, I have this need to know what they are called. It’s all fun!

If you are having trouble getting the ID of birds rights DON’T PANIC!

You are in very good company. Even the most experienced birders have trouble – or get it wrong. A photo can help but sometimes just confuses the issue further.

A standing “joke” amongst birders is identifying those infuriatingly difficult LBBs – “Little Brown Birds.” They can all look the same.

Some general hints to help narrow the possibilities:

1. Size: compare the unknown bird with something you know – is it the size of a wren or a magpie or a duck?

2. Shape: Many species have a distinctive shape eg most honeyeaters are similar but are not the same as the shape of a duck, a hawk or and emu.

3. Behaviour: some only feed on the ground, some in water, others in the foliage. Knowing the  preferences of each species will help.

4. Habitat: Study the preferences of each species as detailed in the  field guides. Mallee birds are generally not found on the beach, water birds usually are near water etc

5. Distribution: Study the field guides and memorize the normal distribution of each species. You won’t see a Cassowary in a private garden in Adelaide  (if you do – PHONE ME IMMEDIATELY LOL). Be aware that the birds haven’t read the field guides and are sometimes a long way from where they are “supposed” to be. This makes the hobby so interesting – odd things pop up in unexpected places from time to time.

These 5 steps will help you to narrow the list of possible species to perhaps half a dozen – hopefully less. Identifying a bird is often just a series of eliminations.

If you dip out and can’t ID something, it’s not the end of the world. Remember: the bird knows what it is.

Above all: Have fun.

What is this bird?

Mystery bird, Australian National Botanic Gardens, Canberra

Mystery bird, Australian National Botanic Gardens, Canberra

What is this bird?

During my visit to the Australian National Botanic Gardens in Canberra early this year I saw the bird shown in the photograph above.

Even though it is a reasonable photo, I am at a loss to determine the species. It was  not happy with me being there taking a series of photos.  I heard several others but they failed to show themselves. The photo was taken in the fern gully near the entrance to the gardens. Below I’ve included several more photos of the habitat.

At first I thought they were White-browed Scrubwrens, but the call was wrong and there is no prominent white eye-brow.

The closest I can come to identification is Large-billed Scrubwren, but that species is not listed on the bird list for the gardens. Birds Australia atlas site is no help either.

Can any one help me? Leave your suggestions in the comments, or use the contact form.

UPDATE: I put out a request on the Birding-Aus and Canberra Birds newsgroups yesterday asking for help with identification of this bird. I had about 15 people reply and all but one said it was a juvenile White-browed Scrubwren. The mystery has been solved. Thanks everyone. I’ve published some pertinent responses in the comments below.

Fern gully, Australian National Botanic Gardens, Canberra

Fern gully, Australian National Botanic Gardens, Canberra

Ferns in the Australian National Botanic Gardens, Canberra

Ferns in the Australian National Botanic Gardens, Canberra