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Six Birds You Should Know

Ring-billed Gull

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.

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.

red-tailed hawk juvenile in flight

Red-tailed Hawk - Kreider's

Red-tailed Hawk

Red-tailed Hawk - Kreider's

Red-tailed Hawk

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.

European Starling in breeding plumage
Adult in breeding Plumage.  © Sam Crowe

European Starling in winter plumageMolting into winter plumage. Photograph © Nancy Hall

European Starling in winter plumageYoung Starlings, bird in back is molting. Photograph ©Shawn Ryan.

European Starling moltingHead is still in juvenile plumage.  Photograph ©Shawn Ryan.

Young European Starling
Young European Starling. Photograph © Greg Lavaty.

3. Killdeer

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.

 Killdeer side viewTwo black bands on chest.  Photograph © Sam Crowe

Killdeer in flightNote tail pattern.  Photograph © Greg Lavaty

4.Ring-billed Gull

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.

 Ring-billed Gull
Adult Ring-billed Gull.  Photograph © Sam Crowe

Ring-billed Gull 2nd year
First winter Ring-billed Gull. Photograph Sam Crowe

Ring-billed Gull jubenileJuvenile 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.

Downy Woodpecker MaleMale 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.

Song SparrowPhotograph © Sam Crowe


About the Author

Sam Crowe

Sam is the founder of He has been birding for over 30 years and has a world list of over 2000 species. He has served as treasurer of the Texas Ornithological Society, Sanctuary Chair of Dallas Audubon, Editor of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology's "All About Birds" web site and as a contributing editor for Birding Business magazine. Many of his photographs and videos can be found on the site.

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