Better Birdwatching from RCS Optics

New to birdwatching? Here is some basic information on how to get up to speed with birders from across the country. 

Birdwatching is really fun and easy. By getting out to your local green belt, local park, or state park, you will have an opportunity experience the amazing plumage coloring awaiting you and to learn and share with others, perhaps a friend, or child, or grandchildren. There are several ways to start out birdwatching but going with a local group will help you to get a better grasp of the activity. Most folks, can identify several, if not many, birds by their general name, for example, an oriole or a sparrow. But did you know that there are nine different species of orioles in the USA and nearly three dozen species of sparrows? Most likely not all are common to your home state or region. The point is that birders like to make a positive identification using their full name; for example a Bullocks Oriole or Harris's Sparrow.

Common Bird Identification

Many birds are frequently further identified in field guides by their sex, age, and plumage. Often times their plumage is subdivided by breeding plumage and non-breeding plumage. Breeding plumage is typically brighter plumage from mid spring through early fall. Non breeding plumage is a duller plumage from mid fall to early spring. Regarding their age, birds in their first year of life are often called juveniles, with plumage that is not yet fully developed. Immature birds refer to younger birds that does have fully developed plumage but still differs from an older adult

Keep in mind that all birds have a molting schedule which varies widely but some general patterns can assist with the age determination. Generally birds will undergo two molting periods per year. The majority of molting takes place after breeding, in late summer or early fall; another important molting period for some birds occurs in late winter and early spring. Some larger birds such as gulls and hawks may be molting to some extent in all months. So most birds undergo a complete molt each fall and a partial molt of just their body feathers in spring. Juveniles, on the other hand often only molt  their body feathers while retaining their wing and tail feathers until the second fall. This results in a key clue to recognizing birds in their first year: their wind and tail feathers are more worn and faded and often a slightly lighter color than those of an adult (1). Keep in mind there are many exceptions to this general pattern.

For those that want to get really serious, there is of course also the scientific name that each bird belongs to. The scientific name is typically two names. The first is the genus, which is the group that the bird belongs to; the second is the species within the group. Occasionally, a third name identifies a subspecies. Subspecies are populations within a species with consistent variations in plumage, shape, and/or behavior. For example a Bullock's Oriole has the scientific name of Icterus bullockii. Scientific names not your cup of tea? Not to worry though, many many birders do not bother learning the scientific names of the birds. Like anything, you can take it just as far as you like.


Many birds have preferred habitats that they will be found in. For example shore birds will be found along the shores of lakes and rivers. Wooded swamps, lakes, and rivers can be preferred by other birds. Upland game birds will be found in open plains and grasslands. Woodlands are of course where the majority of birds can be found. Even then birds nesting habits are also different, depending upon species, as some build nests, others are cavity nesters and some are burrowing nesters.