RFW Bird-watching Resources

Workshop Outlines and Exercises


Tools: Brief, we will discuss this in more detail at the next workshop and you can read about it in the "Tools" Section.

  • Binoculars
  • Field Guide (Print and Online) Cornell LAb's All About Birds
  • Small Notebook
  • (Cornell Lab's Bird ID Phone App: Merlin)

Observing: Go Outside. Look. Listen. Bring conscious attention to what you see and hear.

Basic cycle of observation:

  • Look and Listen
  • Describe
  • Repeat from beginning
  • Consult References
  • Repeat from beginning
  • Document

Family Groupings: A useful way to make sense of the RFW list of 146 Species.

  • Families have shared characteristics.
  • Identifying birds to the family level is a strong first step.
  • In field guides, families are listed in evolutionary order.

Seasonal Groupings: Another useful way to make sense of the RFW list of 146 Species.

  • Year-round Species: Present during all seasons.
  • Transients: Pass through during spring and fall migrations.
  • Winter Visitors: Present only in the winter. (move north or upslope for breeding)
  • Migrant Summer Breeders: Arrive during spring migration, breed locally and leave during fall migration.

Range Maps reveal migratory patterns of a species.

eBird Bar Charts reveal migratory patterns of a species.


Background Reading: "Observing" (Use the menu in the upper left corner to go to "Observing")

  • Take paper and pencil outside. Make a list of everything you hear: car, bird, plane, far-off bird, Robin singing, neighbors hammering, etc.
  • Take paper and pencil outside. Make a list of everything you see: Cottonwood, Apple tree, large bird flying left, group of small birds on the ground that show white in their tails when they flit around, airplane flying over, large black bird, etc.
  • Observe a bird through binoculars. Verbally describe every feature you can find: color(s), bill size and shape, interesting head patterns, tail length, what it is doing, where it is (high, low, in bush, on tree), etc.
  • Take paper and pencil outside. Listen to a bird sound. Try to mimic the rhythm of the sound. Try to mimic the whole sound. Use dashes, dots, squiggles, rising and falling lines or other symbols to notate the sound.

Familes: Background reading:
Go to "Identifying Birds", then "Families" and "Passerines".

  • Use the Menu in the upper left to navigate to "Photo Bird Lists".
  • On the left side of the page, use the "Select a Family Grouping".
  • Select a family from the list, then click submit.
  • (To select a different Family, Use the "back" button of your browser to return to the "Photo Bird Lists" page.)
  • For each family listed, look at and describe the bills (beaks) of each species shown:
    • Swans, Geese and Ducks
    • Hummingbirds
    • Long-legged Wading Birds
    • Tyrant Flycatchers
    • Finches
    • Sparrows and Their Allies
    • Wood-Warblers

Seasonal Groupings: Background reading:
Go to "Migration View", then "Migration - Background" and "Migration - Schematic Model".
Go to "Identifying Birds", then "Where? When? - Checklist - Bar Charts".

Exercise 1:
  • Go to the eBird Bar Chart for Rio Fernando Wetlands on eBird.org: View eBird Bar Chart for Rio Fernando Wetlands
  • As you slowly scroll down, note at least one species from each of the 15-species blocks.
  • Determine the species Seasonal Grouping: Winter Visitor, Migrant Summer Breeder, Transient, Year-round Species, "not sure".
  • Help: As a reminder or aid, revisit this version of the RFW Bar Chart.

    Exercise 2:
  • Use the Menu in the upper left to navigate to "Photo Bird Lists".
  • On the left side of the page, use the "Select a Single Species".
  • Select a Species from either the "Taxonomic" or Alphabetic" list, then click submit.
  • (To select a different Species, Use the "back" button of your browser to return to the "Photo Bird Lists" page.)
  • For what ever species you choose, note that the RFW Bar Chart information is depicted in the graph in the right-hand column. (If there are two charts, it is the upper one.)

    General Exercise: Spend time with a Field Guide noticing differences between families of birds. For individual species, note the range maps and the brief description of its sounds. If you do not own a field guide, use this one online: All About Birds from The Cornell Lab of Ornithology.


    Questions: From last workshop or the exercises.

    Joy of Birding: Two anecdotes.

    • Surprises: Morning Count; Trip to the Store.

    Quick Review from Workshop 1:

    • Binoculars: If you are considering buying binoculars:
      • Read the articles linked to from the Tools page.
      • Read the "suggestions" in the text.
      • More questions? Email Robert at the link shown in the "About" Section.
    • Seasonal Grouping of Species:
      • Range Maps reveal migratory behavior by using different colors for each season.
      • eBird Bar Charts show seasonal abundances for each species.
      • Range Maps (also eBird Bar Charts) help to limit the number of species one might need to consider in trying to ID a bird.
    • Family Groupings of Species:
      • Species within a Family have some shared characteristics: Aid to identification.
      • Identifying a bird to the family level is a useful skill.
      • On this site, as well as in most Field Guides, the Families are listed in Taxonomic Order (Roughly, evolutionary order).

    An essential skill in identifying birds is developing the habit of describing everything you are seeing.

    These three sections provide some concepts and terminology that can help in that development:
    • Describing Birds Visually: In the "Identifying Birds" page, go to "Visual Detail"
    • Describing Bird Sounds: In the "Identifying Birds" page, go to "Sound Detail"
    • Describing Bird Behaviors: In the "Identifying Birds" page, go to "Behavior"

    Preparatory Reading: On the "Identifying Birds" page go to "What?", then study the three sections: "Visual Detail", "Sound Detail" and "Behavior". We covered them in the workshop. That may be enough for you.


    • Go Bird-watching: Go for a walk or stay in one place. Practice the "cycle of observation": Observe and describe the birds you see, then consult a reference (Field Guide). Repeat until you have identified the species and then write down the species and maybe the number of individuals observed. If you are unable to identify the species, make some notes about the observation so that you can work on the identification back home. Remember to observe all aspects of the bird: size, habitat, colors, plumage patterns, behavior, etc. Keep a list with each observation noted.
    • Differences between Male and Female Plumages: Go to the "Photo Bird List" page. Using the "Select a Single Species" option, display some of these species and describe in detail critical differences between the female and male plumages:
      • Rufous Hummingbird
      • Black-crowned Night-Heron
      • Northern Harrier
      • Belted Kingfisher
      • Downy Woodpecker
      • House Finch
      • Red-winged Blackbird
      • Great-tailed Grackle
      • Western Tanager
    • Listening:
      • There are many mnemonics used by bird-watchers to help remember the song of some species. They are usually just a few syllables that capture something about the rhythm and tonal sense of the song.
      • Here are four well known examples. It may be useful to say each one a few times and then go to All About Birds or some other source and listen to a recording of the song.
        • White-winged Dove: Who cooks for you? (The 2nd song given fits the best.)
        • Yellow Warbler: Sweet, sweet, sweet, I'm so sweet.
        • Lazuli Bunting: Paired notes: Fire Fire Where? Where? Here Here See it?
        • Common Yellowthroat: Witchety witchety witchety
    • What you may already know: Use the "Photo Bird List" page again. Since it is winter now, use the "Select a Season" option and look at the Common and Less Common species that are here right now. How many of them do you already know? Use this order:
      • Year-round Birds - Common
      • Winter Visitors - Common
      • Year-round Birds - Less Common
      • Winter Visitors - Less Common
    • Optional (Well, even more optional!): Go to the "Identifying Birds" page and then to "What?", then "Who?" and then "Genera". If this information feels like too much for you, just skip to the exercise at the end. In the same way you have explored similarities within and differences between Families, do the same for the different Genera of the Sparrow Family. If this still feels like too much, just go outside and look and listen. This section will still be here two months from now!


    This might seem a little complicated as there is some new terminology, but it is simpler than it appears.

    Email address in WebTool "About": rt@rioembudobirds.org

    • eBird Intro 1: Abundance Maps, Range Maps and Abundance Animations
    • Where did the data come from to create these incredible products?
    • eBird Intro 2: Explore: from Bar Charts to Checklists
    • Demo: Enter a Checklist on eBird.org
    • 4-Letter Species Codes
    • Bird ID to the genus level: "spuhs" and "slashes".
      • "spuhs": Birds Identified to the Family Level or Genus Level.
      • "slashes": Birds Identified down to two species in a one Genus.
    • Demo: Enter a Checklist on the eBird Phone App with "spuhs" and "slashes".

    The last exercise in Workshop 2 [Optional (Well, even more optional!))] will help with the "Genus" concept.


    Exercise 1 Preparatory Reading
    • On the "Identifying Birds" page, go to "When? - eBird Range and Abundance Maps". Note the distinction between Traditional Range Maps, eBird Abundance Maps and eBird Range Maps.
    • On the "Migration View" page, go to "Abundance Animations"
    Exercise 1:
    • For each species below go to "eBird.org" then "Science" then "eBird Status and Trends"
    • Study the Abundance and Range Maps and view the Abundance Animation.
    • Answer the question listed with each species:
    • Swainson's Hawk - What places along the migration route would be good for monitoring the largest segment of this species population?
    • American Robin - How would you compare the density (birds per square mile) of Robins in the USA during the summer and winter?
    • Townsend's Warbler - In what month would you have the highest chance of seeing this species in Taos?
    • Yellow-throated Warbler - How do you think these birds are getting from the Yucatan Peninsula to the Louisiana Gulf-coast during migration?
    Exercise 2:
    • In the WebTool, go to "Bird Lists".
    • Using the first Submit button, generate a list of "All Species"
    • Explore the list in detail:
      • 1st column: 4-letter Species Code that many bird-watchers use to simplify writing bird lists.
      • 2nd column: Common Name, links to the Information Page for the Species.
      • 3rd column: Scientific Name (Genus specific-epithet) links to the same Information Page, along with the Info pages of all the species in that family.
      • 4th column: Seasonal and Abundance status of the species, links to the same page along with all the species in that Season-Abundance group.
    This page pulls together a lot of information. Here are some ideas on how it might be used:
    • For any species, picture the bird in your mind (details), then click on its Common Name to see photos.
    • As you scroll down through the families, picture the species in the family as a whole (shared details), then click on the Scientific Name to go to that family's Information Pages
    • Scrolling around, familiarize yourself with some of the Genera, especially when there are several species sharing a genus.
    • Using the 4th column, notice which species are here at this time of year.

    To complete the following exercises, you will need to go to eBird.org and sign up for a free account.
    Exercise 3: Entering an Observation into eBird.org Go on a short bird walk:
    • Note the time that you begin and end, the location and estimate the distance walked.
    • Record every species you are able to identify by sight and/or sound.
    • Back home, go to eBird.org and create a free eBird account.
    • Click on the "Submit" button, then follow the instructions and enter the data.

    If you run into difficulties, go to the WebTool's "eBird" page and go to the "Quick Links to the Tools" section.

    There are links to tutorials and other materials that can help you.

    All of this will be covered in the in-person workshops later on.

    Exercise 4: Entering data using the eBird Phone App
    • Go to the Web Tool's "eBird" page. Go through the eBird PHone App tutorial.
    • Go for a bird walk. When you begin, use the Phone App to record your observations.
    • When you are finished, be sure to notate the location and save the checklist.


    Email address in WebTool "About": rt@rioembudobirds.org

    Conserving Birds:
    • Species Diversity:
      • Our Evolutionary Connection to Birds
      • Species Diversity example: Virginia Rail
    • Habitat Diversity and Connectivity:
      • Connectivity example: Swainson's Hawk
    • Biological Energy Production & Native Plants:
      • Solar Energy Example: Swainson's Hawk
    • What can we do locally?
      • Tallamy's Homegrown National Park: One Yard at a Time
      • The Rio Fernando Watershed
      • Taos Valley Collaboration
    Questions on All Workshop Topics


    Exercise 1: Review the core of the Workshops

    Having more practical experience now, you may find it useful to review the two core informational sections of the WebTool, which formed the core of the first two workshops:

    • Observing:
      • Slowing Down, Looking, Listening, Studying
      • "In a Nutshell": Basic Cycle of Observation
    • Identifying Birds:
      • Where? When? What? leads to Who? and often Why?

    Keep in mind that the goal of developing skill using a Field Guide in the identification of birds.

    Exercise 2: Review ways to get information about a species, family or seasonal grouping using the WebTool

    Using "Photo Bird Lists":

    • Use the menu in the upper left corner of the page to navigate to "Photo Bird Lists"
    • All of the selectors generate information pages on the chosen species.
      • Left side leads to pages with Graphs of RFW Occurrence and CBC Occurrence (Audubon's Christmas Bird Count) [If there is no CBC graph it means the species has not been recorded locally on that count.]
      • Right side leads to pages without the Graphs. (Quicker loading times)
      • Right side can generate a list of All Species.
    • Each page provides the following:
      • Common Name, Scientific Name, precise Family Name and Common Family Grouping.
      • 4-Letter Species Code and Size information.
      • Enlargeable Range Map
      • Photos
      • Seasonal Family Grouping
      • Link to the USGS Paxutent Bird Site
      • Link to Audio Recordings at Xeno-canto.org
      • [Occurrence graphs]

    Using "Bird Lists":

    • Use the menu in the upper left corner of the page to navigate to "Bird Lists"
    • This page generates more compact lists. The four columns provide these options:
      • 1st Column: 4-Letter Species Code
      • 2nd Column: Common Name links to the Species information page for that species.
      • 3rd Column: Scientific Name links to the same page, but within the Family List for that species.
      • 4th Column: Seasonal/Occurrence Category links to the same page, but within the appropriate Season/Occurrence List.
    Exercise 3: Review ways to get information about a species using Cornell Lab's Tools:

    All About Birds: (You can always use the "eBird" section of the WebTool to find links to the Cornell tools.)

    • Enter a species name in the Search Bar. Use the icons below the species name to explore these options:
      • Overview, ID info, Life History, Maps, Sounds


    • Select Science, then "eBird Status & Trends":
      • Abundance Maps, Abundance Animations and Range Maps
    • Select Explore, then "Species", then enter a Species Name:
      • links to a kind of "Cornell Portal Page" containing:
        • Brief ID Information, photos and recordings.
        • Range Map (Click to go to standard eBird Species Map)
        • Downloadable Media: Photos, Audio and Video
        • Link to that species' account on All About Birds
    • Select Explore, then "Species Map", then enter a Species Name:
      • Use the + sign to Zoom in on the map until the "shades of purple" rectangles are replaced by "points".
      • Clicking on a "point" reveals "lists" for that location.
      • Click on a list to see details.
      • Important: Use the Set Date Range option to explore seasonal differences in a species' range.
    • Select Explore, then "Bar Charts" (There is a tutorial in the "eBird" WebTool Section on how to generate Bar Charts)
      • The graph for each species reveals its seasonal occurrence at that location.
      • Clicking on the Species Name takes you to the "Cornell Portal Page"
      • Clicking on the Map Symbol (Looks like a flag.) takes you to the Species Map