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Birdwatching for Beginners

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“Use what talents you possess; the woods would be very silent if no birds sang there except those that sang best.”

– Henry van Dyke

The United States is home to 1,107 different species of birds – and there are over 10,000 species of birds globally. Birdwatching provides a moment of pause, a calming moment in nature to forget about the problems of the world, boosting mental health and relieving stress. But how easy is it for beginners to get started?

Luckily you don’t need much to START identifying the native and migratory birds in your back yard or in the Olmsted Parks.  

All you need is:

  1. A Bird Identification guidebook or app like this one from Audubon Society or the Merlin Bird ID app
  2. A good place to look for birds – like the Nettleroth Bird Sanctuary, Summit Field or even your own backyard!
  3. Binoculars (optional)

Identifying Birds

Your bird identification guides can help you identify birds based on the following clues:

  • Group: Look for traits that define each family – does it seem like an owl? A sparrow? This can help you significantly narrow down your ID.
  • Shape: Practically no two species share the same exact shape. Shape can help you identify the group, and paying attention to the leg height, bill shape, neck length, silhouette, etc. can give you great ID clues.
  • Size: While hard to gauge from a distance, think about if this bird is smaller or larger than a bird you recognize, like a robin, cardinal, etc.
  • Behavior: Hoping, wading in water, climbing a tree, or creeping can all be signs that help you point to the bird’s identity.
  • Habitat: Is the bird in a field or a forest treetop? Birds migrate and wander outside of their typical habitats, but often, habitat is an excellent clue.
  • Season: For survival reasons, birds are predictable when it comes to seasons and timings. Local checklists can tell you about the seasonal occurrence of certain species here in Kentucky.
  • Field marks: Are there any distinct colors or markings on the bird? Field marks, referred to as the “trademarks of nature”, can include anything from spots on the body, lengthwise stripes, or crosswise bars which can help you pin down the species.
  • Voice: Most advanced birders can bird by ear – but if you’re just starting out, take note of the way the songs sound, like “drink your teeeeaaaa.”
  • Colors: Take note of their striking hues and use this to narrow down your ID.

Learn more at

Great Birding Spots in the Olmsted Parks

Looking for birds is easy, if you know where to go! You can see a wide variety of birds by visiting the lush tree canopy in the Nettleroth Bird Sanctuary in Cherokee Park or the prairie meadows in Summit Field in Iroquois Park.

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