Birder's Guide

MAR 2016

Birder's Guide is the American Birding Association's newest publication. Each issue focuses on a key subject, providing tips from experienced birders on a wide variety of topics like Travel, Listing & Taxonomy, Gear, and Conservation & Community.

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Bird Like a Neotropical Pro 50 Birder's Guide to Travel | March 2016 online for representative photos of differ- ent habitat types, especially if it is your frst time in the tropics. While habitat characteristics are not always diagnostic, they certainly can help with identifcation. For example, Streak-headed and Spot- crowned woodcreepers may look similar, but Streak-headed is a lowland species, generally occurring in disturbed habitat below 3,300 feet (1,000 m), while Spot- crowned Woodcreeper is found in healthy highland forest mostly above 5,000 feet (1,500 m). You should still take a close look at each woodcreeper, but elevation and habitat can help with identifcation. Knowing general behavior will also help you identify birds. For example, Gray-hooded Bush Tanagers and Capped Conebills wag their tails up and down. When I see this behavior in a mixed fock in the highlands, I instantly recognize them. Many large, understory antbirds such as Zeledon's, Immaculate, and Bare- crowned pump their tails aggressively downwards—a behavior which can help with identifcation especially if you only get a quick look. Birding by Ear Of course, learning bird sounds can help with identifcation. Perhaps more impor- tantly, it's often crucial for fnding birds. But don't just learn the songs of the rare and sexy species. A better strategy, espe - cially if you have limited time, is to learn the vocalizations of the common birds that you are likely to hear every day. Learning these will give you an advantage because your ears will be tuned in and you will likely be more able to pick out a song you do not recognize as potentially worth tracking down. Lesser Greenlets can sing all morning long, and if you did not recognize their song, you might be tempted to stop and investigate. Knowing to disregard it will leave you more time to chase down new birds. Another good strategy is to focus your studies on the songs and calls of furtive birds—the ones that sing from thick - ets and rarely make an appearance in the open, like quail-doves and antpittas. Getting a handle on the songs of furtive species will help you know when one is around, so that you can start looking in earnest instead of just hoping to luck into a chance sighting. It's also a good idea to learn the calls Many woodcreepers are streaky to various extents, and their feeding habits (often hiding on the far sides of trunks or buried in bromeliads) can make them hard to observe before they fy off to the next tree. These Spot-crowned (bottom) and Streak-headed (top) woodcreepers may look similar, but knowing that each occurs in very different habitats will allow you to ID them with even brief or obscured looks. Photos © Raúl A. Vega

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