BY: Saartjie Kidson
A good field guide is an invaluable tool to help you correctly identify birds. Look at a few different bird guides in the bookshop to find the one that’s right for you. Some people prefer a field guide with illustrations, while others prefer a photographic guide. When you have made your selection, take your time to scrutinise the guide. Familiarise yourself with the different bird families and their habitats until you are able to distinguish a duck from a francolin, or tell a thrush from a wagtail. It may take a while before you know your field guide well enough to be able to quickly turn to the right section when you want to look up a bird’s identification marks while observing it in the field. To save time, you could insert markers at groups like the kingfishers, raptors, LBJs (little brown jobs), ducks, seabirds, swallows, sunbirds, and so on. Feel free to make notes in your field guide of details such as where and when you saw the bird or any interesting behaviour you have observed.
Refer to the illustrated glossary in your field guide to learn about the different parts of a bird such as the primary and secondary feathers, or where the crown, eyestripe, rump, nape, mantle, culmen, flank, vent, etc. can be found on the bird. Knowing the terminology will make it easier to understand the text and enable you to identify a bird the instant you see it. When you spot a bird, don’t immediately try to flip through the pages of your field guide to identify it. Carefully study the bird and make mental notes of its appearance and behaviour. Only then should you refer to your field guide to accurately identify the bird.
It is also a good idea while studying the field guide, to listen to a recording of the birds’ calls as this can help you locate birds when venturing out to look for them.