A couple months ago, one friend asked for my help identifying a bird he had seen. "Blue on the top, white belly, white stripe along the wings, a bit lighter around the eyes," he said. I asked him how big it was: "Was it bigger than a robin?" and found out that he didn't know what a robin was. I realized I'd have to back up a little bit.
We eventually figured out that his bird was a Blue Jay, but I was surprised by how long it had taken me to get there. For starters, when he said "blue," my mind immediately jumped to birds like the White-breasted Nuthatch and Black-throated Blue Warbler, which are more blue-gray than blue.
A Blue Jay is really, truly blue, but it's a bird I'm so familiar with that it almost didn't occur to me as a possibility. Then, when my friend looked closely at the photo of a Blue Jay I sent him, and said he wasn't sure that was his bird because he didn't remember it having black on the wings like the bird in the photo. I realized I didn't know how to respond. If size, shape, behavior, and general color pattern pointed to a Blue Jay, I wouldn't look farther. I had never stopped to consider the details of Blue Jay plumage.
This conversation made me realize that I needed to step back a little and think about how I identify birds, and that I also wanted to help beginning birders learn to see the bird's most important features more quickly. This idea lay dormant for a while, until I was asked to write a bird identification pamphlet for Pook's Hill Lodge, where I was staying in Belize. I wasn't trying to write a field guide: I'm not that good, and besides, a wonderful field guide to the birds of Belize already exists (if you're going to Belize, this book is necessary!) Instead, I tried to create an introduction to birding, using examples of birds found at Pook's Hill, so that visitors, intrigued by the beautiful birds around them, could make a start at knowing what they were seeing.
I owe a lot of credit to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology on this one: the basic layout of my guide is based on their "Bird ID Skills" series, which focuses on similar features of birds to those that I wrote about and goes into a lot more depth than I was able to do. I would also like to thank H. Lee Jones, for writing such an incredible and comprehensive field guide, and Dana Gardner, whose illustrations in Birds of Belize provided the references for my own drawings.
That said, here is my bird guide. Read from left to right across the rows, from the top row to the bottom row.
Jump to a Post
Welcome to Hawk Ridge
A Massive Migration
A Happy Birdthday
Photos from the Week
Visiting the Banding Station
A Watched Kettle Never Streams
Food, Part 1
The Big Picture
Last Weeks at the Ridge
Belize, Part 1
How to Look at Birds, A Guide (or: Belize, Part 2)
All Creatures Great and Small
Kids and Language, Again
More Photos from France
Food, Part 2
Building Nests in California
Please Do Not Pet the Woodpecker
Condors and Creatures in Big Sur
A Day at Hastings
I am a high school graduate taking a gap year before college. I’m interested in birds, biology, and the natural world, as well as history, foreign languages, writing, and reading.