Monday, 19 June 2017

What Bird is That? identifying native forest birds

Forest Birds ID card from "In the Bush" - now free to download
Interested in New Zealand's native birds and want to be able to identify them? Ten or so years ago I'd be out in the forest not sure what I was hearing or seeing. Here's some of the steps that I took to improving my knowledge of New Zealand birds.

Set yourself a bird-watching challenge: for example, take part in the New Zealand Garden Bird Survey on this week from 24 June to 2 July.  Gardens are a good place to start because often birds are easier to see in a garden and you can learn bird-watching techniques (see tips below) that will help you when you are out in the forest, beach or wetland. The Top 10 birds in gardens in 2016 were:

  1. sparrow
  2. tauhou / silver eye
  3. blackbird
  4. starling
  5. tūī
  6. myna bird (they are only found mid-upper North Island)
  7. pīwakawaka / fantail
  8. chaffinch
  9. song thrush
  10. green finch
You'll see there are only a couple of natives among the common garden birds but if you live near the bush or a sanctuary you may also have native forest birds in your garden such as riroriro / grey warbler, korimako / bellbird, kererū or kākā.
The Top 9 garden birds are illustrated
on pages 26-7 in "In the Garden"
Bird watching tips: 
TIP 1: Learn the relative size of birds. Birds may appear to have similar colouring so one of the best ways to identify birds by sight is to look at and learn the size of a bird, is it tiny, medium size or large? Here's a fun comparison of bird size - The Chocolate Fish Index. A handy field guide for adults Which New Zealand Bird? by Andrew Crowe organises birds by size and most other guides also give the size of the bird. My books for children all give the length of the bird in centimetres.

TIP 2: Learn how different birds move around and where they look for food. In the forest, it might be hard to see the bird colour or size but the movement or position of the bird can give a clue as to what bird it is. For example, if you see a black-coloured bird hopping about on the ground it is more likely to be a blackbird than a tūī. Tūī often fly high and then do a long swooping flight down and up again. Tauhou and pōpokatea (whitehead) usually feed in flocks in the canopy.

TIP 3: Learn some bird sounds. Kererū have noisy wing beats but don't sing. Riroriro (grey warbler) has a very long whistling trill. The Department of Conservation have an online resource to help you identify the 10 most common forest birds. For each bird it gives tips about the size and behaviour of the bird and also has recordings of the bird songs. NZ Birds Online also has recordings of other less common birds under each entry.
Forest Birds ID card
The first print-run of In the Bush: explore and discover New Zealand's native forests also had this Forest Birds ID card in the inside back cover. While future copies of the book no longer come with the card, the card is free to download.

More Information
Department of Conservation Identifying Forest Birds resource
The official Garden Bird Survey site has comprehensive information not just about how to do the survey but also activities for children and more bird identification tips:
NZ Birds Online

About In the Bush,  including tips for parents and educators and another source of the free downloadable ID card

Related blogs
Blackbird or Tui?
Counting Birds: New Zealand's 10 most common forest birds