Birding Brevard: A Bird's Habits May Give Away Its ID
By Dave Freeland
If you've followed my previous articles on steps to identify birds, this one should come as no surprise. A bird's habits -- that is, how it moves, feeds, flies, etc. -- can be as useful as field marks in confirming its identification.
For example, it's well known that a quick and often finite way to distinguish a small bird "up there in the trees" as either a warbler or a vireo is to note how quickly its movements take it from perch to perch. Warblers are notoriously nervous birds, making rapid movements almost before you can focus your binoculars on them. Vireos, on the other hand, are deliberate, slower creatures, taking their time as they feed and therefore making it easier to fix them in your optics.
So, although you should have paid immediate close attention to your target's size, shape and obvious field marks as you proceed through the identification process, as well as its chosen habitat, do take note of how quickly it moves and other observable habits.
Most Floridians, for instance, know from past experience (or legend) that a Reddish Egret's feeding behavior is unique and often humorous. You can tell a foraging Reddish Egret from a Tricolored Heron or Little Blue Heron at quite a distance by observing its habit of darting quickly about in the water, apparently chasing prey.
When we spot a vulture circling in the sky, it's easy to note that one species -- Turkey Vulture -- floats for long periods with its wings out straight in a dihedral, or shallow "V" shape. Black Vulture holds its wings parallel to the ground when soaring, in a "forward press" distinct from Turkey Vulture. Black Vulture flaps more frequently, its flap-then-glide habit separating it from its close relative even at long distance.
Shorebirds, one of the bird groups that give most beginners the greatest ID trouble, can give away their identity once birders are familiar with their feeding habits. Dowitchers, for example, often wade in water up to their bellies, continually probing into the mud below with their long bills. Dunlins are also frequent probers, in shallower water because their legs are shorter. Many other shorebirds stay on the mud or in the short grass, probing less often.
Among the terns, also an ID problem for the novice, note that the Gull-billed Tern is "a picker," not a diver. If you see a mid-sized tern hitting the surface of the water and plunging in for its food as it feeds, you are not seeing a Gull-billed. Around Brevard County, the diving mid-sized tern is probably a Forster's.
Pay attention to what a bird is doing and how it's doing it and you will more quickly learn what species it is.
Where to Go: Hatbill Park, at the end of Hatbill Road off Route 46 in Northern Brevard County, is a good spot for many types of birds, including passerines along the wooded roadway. Warblers, flycatchers and other land birds can be seen in flocks as you drive into the small park, where a marsh and open viewing scene await. Try Hatbill Park as early in the morning as your sleep requirements demand.
Bird of the Month: Doug Stuckey has had a Black-chinned Hummingbird at his feeder in Mims. This rare western hummer was molting into adult plumage as it fed at Doug's feeders. Doug has been very accommodating to birders interested in seeing this wonderful little bird.
Your Question: Hi, David. Do you see any Limpkins around Viera Wetlands this time of year. If so, when is the best time to see them.
A -- Up to half a dozen have been present at Viera in Cell 4 and occasionally in Cell 1 or even on the dike between Cells 4 and 3. Another good place to see this distinctive species is the small spillway on the left side of the adjacent road to River Lakes Conservation Area, shortly beyond the end of the sod fields. Any time of day is okay.
Forward your birding question to me at email@example.com. I'll answer as many as I can directly and will publish one each month in The Limpkin.