Wednesday, March 23, 2011

What are the problem IDs?


We recently published a news item highlighting the issue that many birders have identifying crows and ravens:

We plan to do more pieces like this in the future, mostly focused on the challenges of identifying common birds. The Carpodacus finches is another group that springs to mind. Many birders over-report Purple Finches in places where House Finches are common. The idea is to draw attention to some of the most frequently misidentified groups of birds in eBird, and help beginning birders get a better grasp on range, seasonality, voice.

Rare and unusual birds are easy for eBird editors to handle, as they are always flagged for review. But the real problem lies in the misidentification of species pairs where both are common in a region. 

What other groups of birds do you think we should highlight in this way? Accipiters are a no-brainer for inclusion!

Team eBird


  1. Great idea! How about blackbirds? In particular, Common Grackle vs. Great-tailed Grackle vs. Boat-tailed Grackle?

  2. I hear a lot of Say's Phoebe vs. female/juv. Vermillion Flycatcher confusion, of all things.

    When people travel, a lot of assumptions follow them, so for my own blog, I made a 'conversion chart' (incomplete, but the best I could manage in raw html and two hours) to get people to actually stop and look at things - female cardinals out here, 90% of the time, are actually Pyrrhuloxias!'s pretty simple, just a "check anything that sounds like [a Downy Woodpecker] because it's more likely to be [a Ladder-backed Woodpecker."

    Other than making more pages like this (for every family of birds!) I'm not sure how you'd best get ebirders to sort out the difficult IDs.

  3. Posting ID articles on the eBird home page is a nice effort, but how many bad submissions will this prevent in the long run? I would guess a very small proportion. These articles will get pushed down towards the bottom within a couple weeks when new items are posted. A few weeks from now they will not be very visible.

    Ideally, these ID articles could be integrated into the data entry process itself. e.g. We see you are reporting Purple Finch in an area where House Finch is much more common. Please check the following linked ID article before continuing. Check this box if you do not wish to see this warning again.

  4. I like Razl's idea about continuing to the linked ID article.

    I would also like to see an explanation for variations of a certain species. For example, what is the difference between a Dark-eyed Junco and a Dark-eyed Junco (Slate colored) and which one would be more common in my area? And following Razl's idea, have a link to the article that does not pop up every time I post Junco counts, but that is available should I have a question on my ID. (For example, a small star near the bird name that can be clicked to retrieve the article.)

  5. I would appreciate some pointers on differentiating swallows in flight.

  6. How about how to tell the difference between wild and domestic-type mallards? Haven't been able to find discussion on that anywhere and it appears to be an important distinction in the checklist.

  7. Some of most mis-identified in my area (mid-Atlantic) include juvenile Little Blue Heron ID'd as juvenile Snowy Egret, other empids ID'd as Yellow-bellied Flycatcher, Forster's Tern ID'd as Common, longer billed Semi Sands ID'd as Western.

  8. Fish Crow versus American Crow are problems in some areas, particularly misidentifying immature begging Am. Crow with FIsh Crow.

    Another problem in E Texas is separating Western Kingbird and Immature Scissor-tailed Flycatcher.

    Immatures are a problem in general.

    Another problem bird is female Cow Bird. I've seen people at a complete loss when confronted by a female Cow Bird alone.

    And female birds are a problem. I can remember, as a beginner, being stumped by a female RWBL.

    How about listening confusion - YBFL with EAWP or LEFL
    Chickadee versus Titm (scolding)
    Kentucky Warbler versus Carolina Wren
    CARW vs CARD
    BLJA vs RWBB
    NOMO vs just about anything - or Brown Thrasher - Chat

    How about an article on Bird Sounds that are percussive!
    Blue Jay, Ruffed Grouse, Greater Roadrunner, GTGR, etc.

  9. Tips for distinguishing Flycatchers would be handy.

  10. Ibis, White faced vs Glossy (especially juveniles!).

    I agree w/ Flycatchers as a good one to do.

    Blackbirds in general. With a poor view or in big flocks, I still find Brewers, Rusty, Grackle, Red-winged can be difficult.

  11. Flycatchers! agree wholeheartedly.

  12. I want to know if anyone has a good way to ID thrushes. The way I identify thrushes is with the following combination of features:

    - Hermit thrush - reddish tail, but not back or wings. Tail flick when perched. Distinct spots on chest. (I do know this bird's wonderful song.)

    - Swainson's thrush - Olive-colored. Distinct eye ring. Blurred spots on chest. (I also just read that I should watch for obvious buff cheeks.)

    - Veery - Reddish tail, wings and back. Few spots on chest.

    - Wood thrush - Lots of very dark black spots on flanks and small dark streaks on face.

    I recently saw a group of 8 olive colored thrushes in a park here in NE Ohio. That park usually has a lot of wood thrushes. This group was all hunting in the grass along a paved bike trail between the woods and the parkway. At first I thought they were robins because there were so many of them. There were more in the trees nearby. I got a good look a them since they were occupied with their hunting. I thought they were Swainson's.

    I would like to get the IDs corretct for eBird.


  13. This is Ken again. I meant to say: "That park usually has a lot of woodland thrushes." Not "wood thrushes".


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  16. In Tilden Park & along the EBRPD ridge Merlin tells us it hears red-winged blackbirds but really they’re aren’t any here!