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It's All in the i-Details

Updated: Dec 30, 2021

This new blog, transferred from the Bird Friendly London Facebook page, will present some basic ID tips for some of the birds one might see around London, Ontario. The series will be called “It’s All in the i-Details”. About a year ago, I met a birder at one of the local hotspots who enjoyed birdwatching and taking photos but was a bit unsure of some of her identifications. I offered to help her and have been agreeing with or correcting her labels through her lovely photos ever since. She makes the effort to ID the bird herself and does quite well, but I verify and may point out field marks to look for.

This gave me the idea that there may be others who might like some pointers on basic identification--without an app--so here we go. I am an old school birder who started way back in 1988 when there were no smart phones or Merlin apps for a quick ID, so like others at the time, we depended on a library of hard copy field guides to study. There was little camera work, since digitals hadn't arrived on the scene and one had to wait days to get slides processed and returned, sometimes with disappointing results. We "old-schoolers" tried to remember field marks for the next time we saw a species.

The featured birds today are House Finch vs Purple Finch.

House Finches are a common feeder bird but you may be treated, as I have, to a visit by Purple Finch in the winter! In the first photo with the icicles, you can see a female House Finch on the left and the male on the right. They are covered in brown streaks and one of the key markers that separates them from a Purple Finch is the presence of streaks, even down to the area under the tail called under tail coverts. That is the first place I look when I see a finch. Is the undertail white or streaked?

The male can turn a brilliant red in the spring breeding season, with a more faded red later in the year. One of the tricky determinations I had as a new birder was to decide if the red was a raspberry tone (as in Purple Finch) or a truer red as evident on House Finch above. In the two photos of the male finches you can see the colour variation between the species. And finally, look for a white "eyebrow" or supercilium on the female Purple Finch that is not present on the female House. You'll notice the streaks also seem coarser on the female Purple Finch. With careful observation, you may be lucky enough to see a Purple Finch whether out on a walk or in your own neighbourhood.

** photos from top: House Finch pair, House Finch female, Purple Finch female, House finch male, Purple Finch male

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