Tips for Bird ID: 4 Birds in St. Pete Beach

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  • Northern Mockingbird. If you've never seen one before you might be surprised at how drab they are. They are among the most romanticized birds (thanks, in part, to Harper Lee and that "Hush Little Baby" song). Tips for identifying: remember that when birding, always go for shape and size first, not colors. The long tail and skinny bill are best for spotting this bird. Personally, I'd rather ID this one from song. Many birds mimic other birds (and frogs, in this case) but the Northern Mockingbird always repeats a phrase 2 - 6 times. If you can only hear the bird and cannot see it, make sure to listen for a couple of minutes. Brown Thrashers repeat phrases 2 times as do Grey Catbirds, who sound nasally and garbled.
  • Mourning Dove. Another bird that is much easier to identify from its vocalizations. Sometimes, beginner birders hear doves and mistake them for owls because doves say "who, who, who" much more clearly than most owls. Mourning Doves call in intervals of who's at a particularly low-frequency. Once you know the shape of a dove or pigeon, it is easy to identify them, even by silhouette. My advice for this easy-to-recognize bird is to pay attention to where you are casting your gaze. Good places to look for Mourning Doves: power lines, fences, and other man-made structures.

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  • Red-bellied Woodpecker. Though the name includes a color, it is still important to first identify the bird as a woodpecker by shape and behavior, THEN you can proceed to figure out which species you're dealing with. Let me show you why. Here is a female Red-bellied Woodpecker that I spotted outside of my accommodations in St. Pete Beach.

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If we just ID from the name, we expect a very Woody The Woodpecker-esque bird with a bright red belly, do we not? And then if we examine the above photo, we are inclined to re-name the bird to something including a red head. But that's already another species of woodpecker. With a complex family like the woodpeckers, look for dead giveaways like that forked tail and sturdy long bill. But more importantly, have a look at what the bird is doing. Is it darting around the trunk of a tree or utility pole quickly examining the surface with its bill? Probably a woodpecker. If you're lucky, like me (it's actually a mixture of luck and patience) you'll get to glimpse the red belly of this species.

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Not much red to speak of. The dappled black and white back and the red on the head are good indicators, but not great. So how do you win with this woodpecker? You learn by looking at your field guide. And also by making yourself aware of birds' ranges. The Red-bellied Woodpecker is found year-round in all parts of Florida so I can immediately cross off other woodpeckers that might look similar but belong to other parts of the world.

  • Bird #4 is a trick question.

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