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Blog Birding #334

How do birders process the birds that they see? How do our brains go from stimulus to identification and where can it get tripped up. These are questions Jennifer Gorka seeks to answer, or at least, to think about.

Here’s a cross-disciplinary thought about how we identify birds: we seem to wrestle between bottom-up and top-down processing. Bottom-up processing of visual information is what we imagine to be our “raw perception”: we sense light with our eyes which we eventually translate into what our brains interpret. It’s the most intuitive and direct model of perception. However, I’ve been talking with birders for years about how we learn to identify birds, and my experiences lead me to believe top-down processing plays in, which is based in cognition instead of sensing.

Twitching. Chasing. We all know what it means. You hear about a rare bird near or far and you make plans to go see it. Steve Tucker of Bourbon, Bastards, and Birds has some tips on how to make you next twitch a great success.

I chase a lot of birds, within a certain radius anyway. Always have, probably always will. I love seeing birds, don’t care who found them. Sure, self-found birds are way better, but the idea of snobbishly avoiding going to see a rarity because someone else found it is absurd at best. If you are waiting to find your own Ivory Gull instead of looking for one someone else reported…good luck with that. I hope you have a long life ahead of you…you’re gonna need it. The trick is not getting into the habit of doing nothing but chasing. But I digress, because this post is dedicated to chasing. More specifically, how to maximize your chances of success and comport yourself with some dignity.

And the other side of that coin? The dip. But it’s ok to dip from time to time, as James Mustafa writes at the appropriately named Big Dip Birding.

Sometimes, it’s ok to dip. In fact, honestly? I think it’s a basic fundamental of the entire practice of birding. To bird without dipping would be like crawling around in the sand pit as a child and not accidentally ingesting a mouthful or two. You know, the whole ‘what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger’ thing? Sometimes that end destination has certain hiccoughs, and you’re not even sure if you’ll ever even make it. But that’s ok. These hits and misses, successes and failures are all a part of the birding journey. The rite of passage as it were, is jam packed with (hopefully) a joyous combination of successful twitchers and flummoxing dips. However, if you stick to it long enough, you’ll soon learn to appreciate that sometimes, it’s ok to dip. 

Bird beaks are more than just seed crushers and mouse dismemberers. They’re also amazingly efficient air conditioners, as Kate St. John at Outside My Window explains.

Raymond Danner of UNC Wilmington and his colleagues used CT scans to display the internal beak structures of two subspecies of song sparrows. The specimens were collected in Delaware and Washington, DC.

Delaware and D.C. don’t seem to have different climates, but a bird of the dunes copes with a hot dry micro-climate compared to one that nests in a wooded inland park.

A DSLR can snap about 10 shots per second, but is it fast enough to capture the wing beats of a hummingbird? Ron Dudley at Feathered Photography tries to find out.

My camera fires 10 shots per second in burst mode. According to the National Park Service the average North American hummingbird beats its wings 53 times per second (it’s really more a rotation than a beat which makes that speed even more remarkable). So in the time it took me to fire off these two shots the hummingbird likely completed 5+ beat cycles and I missed 4 of them between the first and second photo!


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Nate Swick

Nate Swick

Editor, Social Media Manager at American Birding Association
Nate Swick is the editor of the American Birding Association Blog, social media manager for the ABA, and the host of the American Birding Podcast. He lives in Greensboro, North Carolina, with his wife, Danielle, and two young children. He is the author of Birding for the Curious and The ABA Field Guide to Birds of the Carolinas.
Nate Swick

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