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Ultimate Guide to Bird Identification for Cub Scouts

Bird Identification

I know there are lots of folks who can identify birds by seeing or hearing them.  But not me!  I can recognize a few birds, but that's all.  Are any of you in that situation too?

In the new Cub Scout program that became effective on June 1, 2015, two ranks have requirements to identify birds:

Tiger Adventure – My Tiger Jungle 3:  Point out two different kinds of birds that live in your area. With your parent/guardian, other caring adult, or den, find out more about one of these birds.
Wolf Adventure – Paws on the Path 6:  Name two birds, two bugs and two animals that live in your area.  Explain how you identified them.

My first thought was YIKES!  If you're like me, how can you help your den identify birds when you can't identify them?  So, I searched for a good resource.

bird identification by shapes
Sample of Shapes

I discovered All About Birds, a website published by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology (the study of birds).  The Bird Guide on the site is great!  I clicked on the link that allows you to browse by name and shape and saw this chart.

You look at the shape of the bird and compare it to these.  Click on the one that's closest to your bird.  You'll see a list of birds that have that shape.

When you click on your bird, you'll find “keys to identification” which will help you confirm that you have the right bird.  Based on the bird, the keys could include size & shape, color pattern, behavior and adult & immature descriptions.

If you want to learn more about your bird, simply click on the life history tab.  There is a wealth of information available. You can find out:

  • Cool facts
  • The bird's average measurements
  • Where the birds live and migrate to with the range map
  • Their habitat
  • The food they eat
  • How they nest
  • The bird's behavior
  • What their conservation status is–are they plentiful or near extinction

And don't forget to listen to their sounds!

I was so excited to find this resource, but I was even more excited to find that “there's an app for that!”  Cornell's free Merlin Bird ID app shows you how to identify North American birds with your iOS or Android device.  With the smartphone app, you can identify birds by answering 5 questions.

merlin bird id app screen shoot

1.  “Where did you see the bird?”

2.  “When did you see the bird?”

3.  “What size was the bird?”

4.  “What were the main colors?”

5.  “Was the bird…?”  Pick from “swimming or wading,” “on the ground,” etc.

The app then creates a list of possible birds based on your answers!  For each possible bird, you can find out details, see the range map and listen to the bird's sounds.  After you select your bird, the app will record your selection to help improve the app.  Pretty awesome!

While the Bird Guide is great, I believe the smartphone app will help me more when we're in the backyard with those Tigers and Wolves looking for birds.

What do you think?  Website or app?

Yours in Scouting,

P.S. Before you head out to look for birds, why not make a treat for them?  My Bird Feeders for Kids to Make series shows you three easy-to-make bird feeder styles.

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