If you are a relatively new birder here are 6 species that will introduce you to 6 different bird families. They are wide spread and often have variable plumage. Plumages may vary based on age (including molting pattern), sex and time of year.
Learning them will help provide a base reference for comparing to other unknown species.
On this page
1. Red-tailed Hawk
Wide spread and with extremely variable plumage. Ranges from very pale to black. In many parts of the country the usual approach to the identification of a large raptor is that it is a Red-tailed Hawk until proven to be something else. All Red-tailed Hawk photographs © Greg Lavaty. Birds with multiple narrow black bands are sub-adults.
2. European Starling
The European Starling is an introduced species that has been very detrimental to crops and native species. It was introduced into Central Park in the 1800’s by someone who wanted all the bird species mentioned in the works of William Shakespeare to be found in the U.S.
Plumages are variable and confusing due to the molting patterns.
Adult in breeding Plumage. © Sam Crowe
Molting into winter plumage. Photograph © Nancy Hall
Young Starlings, bird in back is molting. Photograph ©Shawn Ryan.
Head is still in juvenile plumage. Photograph ©Shawn Ryan.
Young European Starling. Photograph © Greg Lavaty.
The Killdeer is a good example of a shorebird found in lots of other places. It will nest in rocky driveways and on flat roof tops. It is famous for its injured wing display as it lures potential predators away from its nest.
Two black bands on chest. Photograph © Sam Crowe
Note tail pattern. Photograph © Greg Lavaty
The Ring-billed Gull is widespread, often seen inland near dumps or even parking lots looking for a handout. Gulls can take up to 4 years to reach full adult plumage and can be hard to identify because of the plumage differences. The Ring-billed Gull takes 3 years to reach full, adult plumage.
Adult Ring-billed Gull. Photograph © Sam Crowe
First winter Ring-billed Gull. Photograph Sam Crowe
Juvenile Ring-billed Gull. Photograph © Sam Crowe
5. Downy Woodpecker
The small Downy Woodpecker is often seen at feeders. Very similar to the larger and generally less common Hairy Woodpecker.
Male Downy Woodpecker. Females lack the red mark on the back of the head. Photograph © Sam Crowe
6. Song Sparrow
Sparrows are a difficult group of birds to learn. The variable Song Sparrow is widespread and a good reference bird to know. Learn to identify the Song Sparrow and it will help you identify other similar sparrow species. Compare to Lincoln’s Sparrow.
Photograph © Sam Crowe