What do you think when you hear the word wildlife? Do you think of birds? If not, you should, because no matter where you are or what season you’re in, birds are wildlife you can spot right outside your door.
Think about birds you’ve seen in your neighborhood. Do they all look alike? All birds have feathers, two legs, and a beak, of course, but once you really start noticing birds, you’ll be amazed by their variety. You’ll see birds of different sizes, shapes, and colors and you’ll hear them making many different sounds.
Scientists group birds into categories. Have you ever seen an owl, hawk, falcon, or eagle? Those are raptors, or birds of prey—birds that hunt other animals by seizing them with their powerful feet and sharp talons. Perching birds or songbirds are the birds you see flying over city streets, flitting through the trees, sitting in a row on a telephone line, or looking for insects or seeds in the grass. There are many types of birds: tiny hovering hummingbirds, strong-billed woodpeckers, waterfowl like ducks and geese with their webbed feet, long-legged wading birds, shorebirds, and even birds that don’t fly, like penguins and ostriches. Some birds live in the same area all year round, and others are migratory, which means that they move between the place they raise their young and another place where they spend the rest of the year.
There are about 10,500 species of birds in the world. Sometimes it’s easy to identify a species, and sometimes it can be hard to tell two species apart because they look so much alike. Scientists and birdwatchers start the process of identifying a bird by paying attention to its field marks—characteristics like colors, markings, size, shape, and even sounds. Take a look at this Blue Jay and its field marks.
Blue Jay field marks: Large songbird. Mostly bright blue on the crest, nape, and back, with a black band framing the face. White face, throat, breast, and belly. Black and white mixed with blue on wings and tail. Variety of sounds, from harsh calls to whistles and whirrs.
A lot of people have fun trying to identify every kind of bird they see and keeping a list of all the different species they’ve spotted. Others just enjoy hearing birds singing in the trees and wondering what that song means. What about you? What do you enjoy about birds?
Ready to start your Get to Know Birds adventure? Begin by reading the Audubon Adventures magazine you see in the column on the right. You’ll discover how to identify a bird by its field marks, and then you get to describe a bird in your own words. How many different bird species do you think there are on each continent? You’ll learn that, too. And you’ll find out how, no matter where you live, you can be a friend to birds. After you’ve read the magazine, there’s a lot more to do. Take the online quiz to check what you’ve learned. Play the “Who’s Beak? Who’s Feet?” game. Most of all, have fun!
Photos: (t) Camilla Cerea; DepositPhotos.