Finding and reporting a rare bird can be beneficial to your community and you may even be featured in a local news story. However, unless you are a bird expert, it may be hard to differentiate and identify such a species. Some species are hard to find because their numbers are scarce, while others are only active at night or camouflage well. Finding one often involves luck or some degree of effort.
Birds in Your Area
If you want to commit to searching for rare bird species, it’s important that you familiarize yourself with common bird species in your area first. This way, when you see a rare bird, it stands out much clearer. Vagrants are a category of birds that migrate outside of their normal range, which can happen for a number of reasons. Some may be inexperienced, caught in a storm, have genetic abnormalities that misdirect them to unfamiliar locations, or have once been a pet that has been released. Vagrant birds are not exclusive to these specific factors and can end up in unfamiliar territory for unknown reasons. Although this may seem like a rare occurrence, it is actually more common than you may think. By studying birds within your area, vagrants will likely attract your attention because you will probably see hundreds of common birds before ever spotting a rare one. Vagrant birds typically only stay for short periods of time, so being able to identify one quickly is key.
The best way to identify a rare bird species is to take a photo of it. This is true for a number of reasons. When you have a picture, you can observe the finer details of the bird and compare it to photos of other birds. There is also tangible proof of what you saw when you go to report it to your community. It is important to be able to back up your claims because many people can be skeptical. It is good practice to snap as many photos as possible, however, something is better than nothing. Most bird watchers carry around a camera wherever they go, because most sightings are unexpected.
Record Your Findings
If you find yourself without a camera and suspect that a bird around you is a rare species, take notes. Make note of its physical description as best you can, including its color, body, beak size and shape, eye color, or any other distinguishing features. One of the best ways of identifying a species of bird is by its plumage or feathers. Make note of feather pattern, color, and arrangement. It is also important to note its behavior or any descriptions of the sounds it makes. During your observations, you should try to be as quiet and still as possible. Any sudden movement can disturb the bird, so you should avoid getting too close. This is why many birders always carry a set of binoculars with them at all times. Aside from standard notes, actual sketches of the bird can be helpful as well. You should always note the date, time of day, and its specific location during a sighting.
Sometimes, you may be able to hear a bird without it being visible. In situations like these, you should record any sounds it makes if you have a recording device available. Bird calls can enable you to distinguish a particular species and is another form of tangible evidence used to identify rare birds in your area.
The Bird Watching Community
The more details that you can observe from a bird will better support your claims to your local community or bird club. These groups may reject your sighting if there is even a remote chance that it is something else. That is because it is essential for these official reports to be accurate in terms of the scientific record.
Another useful tool to consider is staying connected with local and regional birding organizations on social media, hotlines, or listservs. This way, you can stay up to date on rare bird sightings so that you know what you can look out for.
Bird Watching Ethics
Most importantly, you should follow proper birding ethics so that the safety of the rare bird species is not disrupted. Many vagrant birds are highly nervous in unfamiliar territory as it is. Undue stress caused by onlookers can cause certain health problems or even make them more susceptible to predators. Treat every sighting with care and observe cautiously.