Thursday, September 2, 2010

Bird 'Conversion' Chart

"I haven't seen a single Ladder-backed Woodpecker, I just keep hearing Downies!"

This 'conversion' chart stems from a comment overheard at Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge, where there are no Downy Woodpeckers. In 2006, I led bird walks at Santa Ana and found myself reminding eastern birders that Texas is a whole new ballgame.

All of Texas is a funny place; it's where the bird life from the east meets west and north meets south. So this chart, geared mostly towards eastern US birders, will hopefully keep everyone on their toes. It's as simple as checking a white goose to see if it's Snow or Ross's, but on a regional level. Yes, Downy and Ladder-backed Woodpeckers (and Red-bellies and Golden-fronts and the gnatcatchers) will potentially stump those who bird by ear.

This is by no means an official, 100% foolproof list; birds have wings and don't bother to check the range maps. But I hope it at least points you in the right direction!

If it looks/sounds like..... Make sure it's not..... Because.....

Mallard Mexican Mallard Mexican Mallard is expected
Turkey Vulture Zone-tailed Hawk Check every bird. Every time. Both absent in winter
Red-tailed Hawk Swainson's Hawk Swainson's in summer, Red-tail year round
Falcons Aplomado, Prairie, kestrel Report Aplomado sightings to The Peregrine Fund; they're reintroduced
Common Nighthawk Lesser Nighthawk Both present in summer; Lessers fly lower and seldom call
Chimney Swift White-throated Swift Chimneys should not be here
Ruby-throated Hummingbird Black-chinned Hummingbird ...or Rufous, or Anna's, or Broad-tailed, or...
Red-bellied Woodpecker Golden-fronted Woodpecker Red-bellied should not be here
Say's Phoebe Vermillion Flycatcher Don't laugh, female/young Vermillions have been mistaken before
Great-crested or Brown-crested Flycatcher Ash-throated Flycatcher Ash-throated are summer residents, others are accidental
Western Kingbird Cassin's Kingbird Both are summer residents
Cliff Swallow Cave Swallow Cliffs may be abundant, but Caves are mixed in with them
Common Raven Chihuahuan Raven Both are present; larger size and deeper voice separate Common
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher Black-tailed Gnatcatcher Both present; Black-tails prefer dry scrub habitat in summer
Myrtle Yellow-rumped Warbler Audubon's Yellow-rumped Warbler Myrtle shouldn't be here
Summer Tanager Hepatic Tanager Just in case - especially in the mountains
Scarlet Tanager Vermillion Flycatcher Any Scarlet Tanager requires photo documentation!
Northern Cardinal Pyrrhuloxia Both present; look for Northern Cardinal in riparian habitats
Buntings Indigo, Varied, Painted Females will be frustrating, but definitely check all males!
Sparrows Every Sparrow, Every Time Beware: Cassin's, Rufous-crowned, Chipping, Clay-colored, Brewer's, Field, Vesper, Lark, Black-throated, Lark Bunting, Savannah, Grasshopper, Song, Lincoln's, White-crowned... and more!
Eastern Meadowlark Western Meadowlark Both are present; listen to voice for ID
Common Grackle Brewer's Blackbird Check for Red-winged and Yellow-headed, but in winter, Brewer's is default - Common grackles are rare!
Brown-headed Cowbird Bronzed Cowbird Both occur, Bronzed only in summer
Orioles Orchard, Bullock's, Scott's Summer residents; Hooded is a possibility as well
American Goldfinch Lesser Goldfinch Both occur; American in winter, listen for a slurred call for Lesser

For bonus 'stump the birder' festivities, check out our "Large Brown Bird" post at SeeTrail. And keep in mind that exotic birds also occasionally fall into the description trap... emu, anyone?

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