Exploring Birds

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Exploring and Observing Birds

Birds Exploration IconMany birds seen in Jefferson County are part-time residents, seasonally migrating here from thousands of miles away, while others are year-round residents.

In the Exploring Birds virtual nature walk, biologists Dave Rugh and Ken Wilson regale us with many of the bird species you may see in this region, from mountains to seashore, as well as their forms and behaviors.

After watching the virtual nature walk, find a set of resources and activities on the page below.


Exploring Birds Virtual Nature Walk with Lead Naturalists Dave Rugh and Ken Wilson


Exploring Birds Resource Recommendations from Dave Rugh and Ken Wilson:


Mobile Apps:

  • The Audubon Bird Guide is a free and complete field guide to over 800 species of North American birds
  • eBird
  • iBird makes a number of bird apps
  • The Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s Merlin app is free to download
  • Sibley also makes a bird app

You can also do a search for “best bird apps” to find other reviews and suggestions.


Recommended Exploring Birds Activities:

  • Choose a Sit Spot location and go there at least two times per week for at least 20 minutes each time and count how many individual birds you hear. This doesn’t involve identifying species, just counting how many birds are making noise.
  • Take a walk in your area and just notice bird life, anything at all. Most of the time, we’re not intently observing. Discover what you normally may overlook — focus on as much or as little detail as inspires you, but do attune yourself to the bird life.
  • Choose a format for recording your observations. Decide what you want to use to write and draw while completing any of the focal species activities listed in the next bullet. It can be a journal, paper on a clipboard, or whatever you have on hand. The pages/paper should be large and sturdy enough to accommodate drawings at least as big as your hand.
  • Choose a focal species — one species of bird to study in depth. Note that the five common Sentinel Birds in our area are American Robin, Dark-eyed Junco, Song Sparrow, Pacific Wren, and Spotted Towhee so they may be more easily seen and heard. However, you can select any bird that you hear frequently in your backyard or neighborhood, preferably from your sit spot, that you’d like to learn more about. After you’ve chosen a focal bird species to study, begin these focal species activities:
    • Identify your species: Use the resource recommendations listed above to identify the vocalization (or sighting).
    • Identify similar species in the wild: What other birds look or sound similar to your focal species? See “ID Info” page for your focal species in the Cornell Lab Bird Guide, e.g., American Robin.
    • Sketch your bird: Create a sketch of your bird and label it with common and scientific names, size, and main identifying features. Check out these helpful Sketching Tips and Resources.
    • Research your bird’s life history: Research and write down your focal species’ diet, habitat, nest location, and range. This information can be found at The Cornell Lab Bird Guide, on the Life History page for your focal bird species, e.g., American Robin. If you want to have fun with it, create a fictional account of  “A Year in the Life of a Bird.” For example, see Ken Wilson’s biography of the imaginary Jefferson Land Trust Finch!
    • Want more to do? Choose another bird and start again!
  • Complete the Identifying Bird Calls and Songs Activity to learn how to recognize birds from their calls and songs.