Bird ID Workshop – Those “Little Brown Jobs”

i Aug 29, 2016 No Comments by

Authored by
John Gerwin

On Saturday, August 27th, Wake Audubon and the Museum of Natural Sciences co-sponsored a workshop to learn some of the finer points of bird identifications for a variety of challenging species. Twelve folks ventured out and into the murky world of “little brown jobs” which actually included some big brown “jobs” and a few other types added for good measure.
Three of most active Young Naturalists provided tremendous support (one is a former Museum Junior Curator who has been affiliated with the YNC program the past 2 years). These 3 helped to pull ~75 bird specimens from the Museum’s ornithology collections, to represent some of the more challenging plumages of species found in North Carolina, and often in Wake County. These included various species of warblers (fall, immature plumages), sparrows, raptors (“all immature raptors seem to be brown on the back and streaked underneath”….), and some of the finch/bunting types. There were others and as the saying goes, you just had to be there.

Olivia and Vanessa Merritt - Explaining Field Mark Details at ID-workshop_JohnGerwin

Olivia and Vanessa Merritt – Explaining Field Mark Details at ID-workshop_JohnGerwin

Edward Landi - Explaining Field Mark Details at ID-workshop_JohnGerwin

Edward Landi – Explaining Field Mark Details at ID-workshop_JohnGerwin

Specimens were arranged on tabletops in their respective groups, and John Gerwin and the 3 assistants held court at the resulting tables, where they could go over each specimen/species and compare and contrast with others that look so much alike.
Olivia and Vanessa Merritt, and Edward Landi, have assisted John with numerous bird banding events over the past 3 years, which includes 4 projects. They have spent many hours handling live sparrows, buntings and warblers in the Fall at both Prairie Ridge and a grassland/shrub site in the Uwharries, as part of ongoing bird banding studies at each site. They also assist with tasks in the Museum’s ornithology collections. So these three have gained quite a bit of experience with these more challenging species (some of our other Young Naturalists have been participating as well but were unavailable to help on Saturday).
In addition to the specimens, John showed a few dozen images of the species of interest, during which time we were able to discuss the field marks, and see how things might look through optics (versus a specimen in your hand!). This gave folks a chance to guess at identifications, which is always a combination of fun and internal strife!
By the end, we were all sufficiently overwhelmed by the many shades of browns, grays, olive greens, but we agreed that in spite of their more “quiet” look, they are really quite lovely once you see them up close the way we did.
Attached are a few of the species we covered – click on the image to enlarge it. See which ones you can ID (then look at the end of the blog for the answers).






John Gerwin, Treasurer, Wake Audubon and Research Curator, Ornithology, North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences

Upper left: Palm, western subspecies
Upper right: Cape May, female
Lower left: Blackpoll
Lower middle: “Yellow”, or Eastern Palm
Lower right: Prairie

Lower left: Cooper’s, immature female
Upper middle: Sharp-shinned, adult
Upper right, Sharp-shinned, immature
Lower right: Cooper’s, adult on Starling

Left: Gray-cheeked
Right: Swainson’s

Left: Field
Right: White-crowned, immature
Ammodramus: this slide shows the underside of the two species of what were once considered one: Sharp-tailed Sparrow. Now known as: Nelson’s, and Saltmarsh, sparrow. The specimen labels reflect this current taxonomy.


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