About us: We own the Wild Birds Unlimited nature shop in East Lansing, Michigan,
a store that provides a wide variety of supplies to help you enjoy the birdwatching hobby.

This blog was created to answer frequently asked questions & to share nature stories and photographs.
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Sunday, August 21, 2011

How to find help in identifying birds

Hi, Sarah -- My name is Lynn.  I want to get an ID on a couple of photos I took yesterday, and was referred to you.

The first I suspect may be one of the flycatchers, Willow or Alder.  Territory was swamp/lowlands and creek.  Note the longish beak, and especially the two-toned effect.  Also, not wholly visible on this pic are, I believe, two wing bars.  No "smudges" under the tail that I could discern on this or any of the other pics (not much difference between the pics):
This second pic I don't have a clue about.  It was taken in the same area as the first.  This bird does not have the two-toning that the first one does on it's beak, but it's still pointy, not finch or sparrow-like.  Both seem to have exceptionally black feet. I'm baffled. I'm curious what you think they may be? Thanks --Lynn

Hi Lynn, Empidonax flycatchers are hard to ID even for some experienced field ornithologists. These small greenish-gray birds with eye-rings and wing bars are very similar in appearance and can best be identified positively by song or a series up-close measurements.

The first looks like a Willow Flycatcher, almost identical to the Adler but with the less defined eye ring but I'm not positive. The second looks like an Eastern Phoebe.

Fall can be a hard time to identify birds with all the juvenile and molting birds too. --Sarah
I took this pic today (Clinton County, MI):
I realize this is a little too far south, but I'm thinking Yellow-Bellied Flycatcher.  It has a distinct eye ring, black legs, a bi-colored beak, whiskers, and a bit of a crest (not clearly visible in this shot).  Sorry, this is the only angle I saw.  What do you think? Thanks for your help --Lynn

It could be a Yellow-bellied Flycatcher. They migrate through Michigan mid-June through August.
Do you want me to post your photos on Sunday's blog and see if we can get an expert birders opinion on the identification? --Sarah
Sure, that would be great!  I started officially taking these photos last December, and next December I plan to put them into book form (just for myself, because with upwards of 50 - 8½ x 11's, my photo book is starting to fall apart), and I'd really like to know how to label them.  ......Or I could just go with a "?". Thanks, Sarah!
Your welcome! The photos are fantastic, by the way, thanks for sending them. Another good resource to help identify birds is WeLoveBirds.com. It's a fun, free website full of information. I submitted your photos to their birding forum and the consensus was #1 is a Willow Flycatcher, #2 is an Eastern Phoebe and #3 is a Yellow-bellied Flycatcher.
One comment in the forum discussion was "It's good to talk these (bird IDs) out and share our reasoning, helps us get better!  :)" And I agree. You can view all their comments at http://www.welovebirds.org/forum/topics/phoebe-flycatcher-id-help --Sarah

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