Character Birds

All birds have unique characteristics, but some species have the perfect blend of charisma and character to convince young (or new) birders to really get into it. If a bird has this perfect mix of traits we call them a CHARACTER BIRD. When you are teaching a young birder, it helps to get them motivated and excited about finding birds on their own.

Character Bird Traits

  1. Common
  2. Location
  3. Identifiable
  4. Song and Calls
  5. Curiosity
  6. Behaviors

Young Birder
Allison with Swarovski 10x42 EL

Looks

Common Enough
For young or new birders to successfully find a bird, they must be common enough to find. For the youngest and newest of birders, an American Robin is a good choice. It is important to have a high success rate at seeking out a certain bird. Watching the trees for a glimpse of that Yellow-throated Warbler is as exciting as watching paint dry to a five-year-old. Actively watching a American Robin VS. The Worm battle is a much better route.

For new adults getting into birding or older children, the American Robin is too easy. There are common birds that aren’t so in your face such as the Eastern Towhee or Gray Catbird. (“In your face” is relative based on experience.)

Location, Location, Location!
If the birds you find are tiny specks high in a tree, they won’t matter to a new birder if the species is a House Finch or a Cerulean Warbler. Finding an Eastern Towhee digging through the leaves on the ground, however, might give them a chance to see the bird’s colors and patterns and observe them in action.

Eastern Towhee
Eastern Towhee

Identifyiable
Sorry, Gray-cheeked Thrush, but you are just too difficult for the newest of birder. Distinct field marks and identifiable qualities are a must. If you see a Blue Jay or Northern Cardinal, you know it! Your birder has got to be able to tell what it is once they actually find it. If you spook out a Song Sparrow from the brush, your birder will be able to figure our what it is. Especially if they have pre-researched a few commoners in their area.

Actions

Songs and Calls
One of the things birders learn as they watch birds is that Gray Catbirds will go on and on and on with their mimicky calls. Especially if you are straining to hear a warbler’s call high in a tree. Birds that call and sing in addition to being visable make the best training tools for new birders because they can see them sing. They can put a face with the song and that makes the connection with identifiying that species by sound. Learning sounds is important because many birds are first identified by sound which helps a birder know what to look for (not to mention it helps Citizen Science bird counts)!

Curiosity
The poster species for a character bird might be the Gray Catbird or Song Sparrow. Chances are, they will be finding you as you are finding them. They
want to know who is hanging in their territory, so they will many times come on out and take a look at you. Red-wing Blackbirds might go so far as to take a swing or two. The more curious the bird is, the better for a new birder.

Behavior
This is by far the most fun if you are trying to excite someone into becoming a birder. If you are into birds you understand that watching a tiny kinglet forage around in the early spring for twenty minutes is better than watching the next episode of Lost. Seeing a Great Blue Heron catch and eat a fish makes a lasting impression and leaves you wanting to see more.

Gray Catbird
Grey Catbird

A common bird with character and charisma can make or break the interest of a new birder. Young birders getting into watching birds need to be drawn in and searching out character birds to observe can get them motivated.

The birder’s age and experience are the main considerations when deciding what species are character birds. For the very youngest new birder, Northern Cardinals, American Robins, or Blue Jays work.

For older children and new birding adults, Eastern Towhees, Gray Catbirds, Brown Thrashers and Northern Mockingbirds are great examples.

What birds do you consider “character birds”? What other ways can you gather interest in young and new birders? Please leave your thoughts in the comments section below.

3 thoughts on “Character Birds

  1. Excellent topic for the guide to birding with kids/youth!

    With a couple years of birding with kids under my belt, the birds in my area that are good character birds (for all the reasons you mentioned above) include:

    1. Canada Goose
    2. Mallard (all other waterfowl are just remembers as ‘ducks’)
    3. Great Blue Heron
    4. Hawks & Eagles (occasionally the species is remembered)
    5. Killdeer
    6. Mourning Dove
    7. Owls (they always excite kids and adult even if they forget the species)
    8. Common Nighthawk (when you see them they are easy to identify and my son thinks they are the coolest!)
    9. Belted Kingfisher
    10. Woodpeckers (Flicker or Downy, to the kids they are all cool woodpeckers)
    11. Black-billed Magpie
    12. Bluebirds (Mountain of Western, they don’t remember. They just remember the striking blue color)
    13. Of the Warblers, only the Yellow Warbler and Yellow-breasted Chat are conspicuous enough to get and hold kids attention for any length of time.
    14. Bullock’s Orioles – easy to see in my area and kids seemed interested in seeing the difference between the gorgeous male and the less glamorous but still pretty female.

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