Nature Notes: Which Bird is That?

By Brittany Sabol, Education and Training Director

Here in the Palo Alto Baylands there are quite a number of birds that look very similar. How do you tell a Cliff Swallow from a Barn Swallow? Or a Snowy Egret from a Great Egret? For the beginning birder, here are some fun ways to remember the difference.

See an all white egret? Take a look at the feet color and the bill color. One will be yellow and the other black. Then remember, “The Snowy Egret wears his snow boots.” That will remind you the Snowy Egret has yellow feet and a black bill.  The Great Egret has the opposite.

The two main swallows at the Baylands are the Cliff and the Barn Swallows. They both have dark blue backs, rusty red chests and white bellies. But take a look when they are swooping through the air. Are their tails forked? Remember, “You keep your pitchfork in the barn,” and you will know the forked tails go with the Barn Swallow. Look up at one sitting in their nest. Do you see a white spot on their forehead? Remember, “The white cliffs of Dover,” and you know that is a Cliff Swallow.

And finally, the male Mallard and the male Northern Shoveler look quite different up close. But sometimes you are seeing them on the other side of the mud flat and it’s harder to tell. See a green head? Male Mallard right? Well, maybe. Male Shovelers have green heads too; though side-by-side theirs is darker. But look at the bill. What do you do with your shovel? Dig in the dirt right? Shoveler bills are “dirty” black, but Mallard bills are “clean” and yellow.

Do you know of other fun ways to remember the differences between types of birds? Visit our Facebook page and share them with us!

July 2013