Amateur Birder's Journal
© 2007 by J R Compton. All Rights Reserved.

Identifying Birds  

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Despite that I really am an amateur birder, readers send me birds to identify. Since I don't know squat about birds, except the ones I enocounter and carefully observe and/or photograph, I am opening up this process to all readers, many of whom I hope know more about birds than I do.

Send emails or identifications to me at

My responses are in light green.


  1. Attach a digital image, preferably full size (Don't compress or reduce its size, at all.) in JPEG format, to your inquiry. If no photo, carefully describe the bird's color, shape, size, beak size, feet color, etc.
  2. Drawings or paintings could well be fantasy, so if they're not obvious, we probably won't entertain them here. Few artists feel obligated by "real" colors, which are a big help for identifications.
  3. Zoom to full telephoto if you can.
  4. Fill the photographic frame as much as possible.
  5. Crop the image, but don't process it — Leve the contrast, colors, tones, sharpness alone — even if they're "wrong." I'm an old Photoshop hand, and I can do wonders with an original, camera image, before anyone "corrects" it.
  6. Use "Bird ID" as your email subject.
  7. Describe your interaction with the bird. "It flew over." "It stayed and chatted," whatever. Describe any discernably unique behaviors.
  8. Tell where you live, including city and state, province or country. Are you near a big lake or ocean?
  9. State the time, including month, date and time of day you encountered the bird and/or made the photo.

Red Unknown

in Galveston

Cute little red bird with a long curved beak photograpphed by Linda L at Moody Center in Galeston, Texas.

Your "cute little red bird" is a Scarlet ibis.The Galveston bird is part of the Garden property, not a wild bird, but it is also an accidenta/casual visitor in Texas. / (googling on "scarlet ibis Moody" comes up with a bunch :-)

A fan of your photography, Leslie Schweitzer


Heron or Egret with Spots - Photo by Maritza

Heron / Egret Unsub — Photo by Maritza

Can you ID this bird? I have been looking for it and I can't seem to find it anywhere. Looks like an Egret to me. I took these at Viera Wetlands (in Florida)

Thank you for your help

It's a first-year Little Blue Heron.



I Live in Orange County, Californai, about 11 miles north of the Bolsa Chica Wetlands.

We're lucky because we get a chance to see different types of birds you wouldn't normally see in other places because we aren't that far from the wetlands or the beach. I know what the White Egrets look like because they come around often, along with Ducks and Hawks, white owls, and other types of birds, but today I saw something that I've never seen before. I had just gotten out of my car in my driveway and something in the sky caught my eye.

There were these large birds, white except for the outer half of their wings which were really dark, like black. I at first thought they were the large white egrets we see all the time, but as I kept looking at them, I knew they weren't because of the wings being dark on the ends. They were beautiful. there were around six of them flying together in a wide circle. They just kept going around and around, so graceful. I've never seen that in our neighborhood. So I went to my computer, looked up Egrets and Herons and found your site, which by the way is very informative.

I finally found the bird that looked liked the ones I saw today and it said it was a Great Blue Heron. Are there many here near the coast in California? I was just curious because they were so beautiful the way they were flying, and it wasn't just one but six, and I was just amazed by them. I know that you must be busy and that you can't possibly answer every question but when you have the time could you answer mine?

Thank You so much.


Great Blues aren't white with black tips, but American White Pelicans are. They look much different from egrets up close, but it may be possible to confuse the two in flight. Check out my photos of them circling since September 2007, probably till March or April. -JRC

I went to your site and saw the pics of the pelicans, and yes now I'm positive that's what I saw. I usually see them all the time driving south on Bolsa Chica Road but I have never seen them in the neighborhood and in a large group like that. Thanks so much for the info. By the way your pictures on your journal site are really amazing.


albino hawk?

I came across your web page while trying the identify the following bird. My husband, kids, and I were out scouting for Oryx at the McGregor Range on Fort Bliss and my husband saw this bird perched on a desert plant that right now I can't think of the name. I got out of the truck and got as close as I could to take a picture. We have never seen anything quite like it. I am taking a guess that it might be an albino red-tailed hawk, but I haven't found a picture on the internet that looks exactly like it. It didn't seem to have pink eyes. I would appreciate any help you could give me.


Shondra's thought that her white bird perched on a desert plant might be an albino Red-tailed Hawk is most likely correct. Red-tails, besides being our most common hawk, are also the most variably plumaged and more susceptible than most to some degree of albinism. I found photos of a red-tail on the internet that has blue eyes but entirely white feathers: (If you click on slide number 3 on that page to enlarge it, you can see that the iris of the eye is blue.) Sometimes the feathers aren't entirely white when seen close up — here's a different one: Some more variations on this theme: (Lots of photos of different red-tails with varying degrees of "leucism" or partial albinism — takes awhile for all the photos to open, though.)

Then there's my one shot of an albino red-tail at last October's state fair at, where it's the 12th photo down.



Hello -
I recently found this bird hopping around my yard. She didn't fly. She was the tinyest little thing and I am just so curious about what kind of bird she may be. We have named her Phylis. Phylis was small enough that you could put her in your palm and close your hand around her. While searching in google images I came across your page. I am wondering if you may be able to help. Attached is a photo of Phylis. Any ideas would help. Thanks for your time.


When I asked, C K responded:

Thanks so much for your help. I live just south of Seattle in Washington (about 30 min south). I see many little birds that fly around or poke around in my yard but Phylis is so different. She is so round and tiny and her beak is strait and thin she also didn't attempt to fly, not even lift her wings so I assume she's just a baby. As far as it being a girl it is just what my daughter and I settled on. She just looked so cute and sweet so we figured it must be a girl. I will keep looking around to see if I can find anything that looks like her too. I hope the busyness slows down for you. I look forward to hearing if you come across anything. Thanks again!

So, does anybody know what Phylis is?

Betsy Baker, our then resident unAmateur Birder says, "Please tell CK that Phylis, her huddled ball of brown stripey fluff, is a Winter Wren, our smallest wren.

Could be that the reason Phylis didn't fly away is that she was quite cold and didn't want to lose the stored heat in her fluffed feathers by compressing them. The chilled feeling could be because it was very cold out, or she hadn't been able to find enough food (a possibility with first year birds especially), or she was sick. It concerns me that she allowed herself to be picked up — that suggests weakness from either starvation or illness. Has she been seen since?

Here's some info on Winter Wrens: