When I seek to identify a bird, I use a minimum of two field guides and one website to check my observations on appearance, markings, behavior, habitat, size, and more, including a cross comparison with similar species. If a species has distinctive markings, I must have included those in my observations for a positive identification as well, which isn't always easy with birds I haven't seen in years. If even one of my sources disagrees or sheds serious doubt on my identification, I don't feel that I can include the species as a permanent member on my life list. While this may seem overly detailed, it is important to remember that there are approximately 10,000 species of birds in the world, and just a few incorrect assumptions can vastly inflate one's life list. This can have a devastating impact on bird watch projects, such as the annual Backyard Bird Count and Project FeederWatch.
It can be thrilling to add new species to my list, and for the time being I occasionally have the opportunity to make armchair additions as I browse through my field guides and verify identifications of birds I've seen in the past. Even as the temperatures continue to drop, however, I'm eagerly awaiting the opportunity to travel as well as the arrival of spring so my life list can grow and prosper just as the birds I hope to see in the backyard.
Have you voted in the October poll? Tell us about the types of feeders you use!