For the Birds: Whole-bird approach to birdwatching

Photo by Chris Bosak A gray catbird perches on a branch in New England, July 2020. Merganser Lake.

Look up “wood duck” in a cheap field guide and you’ll likely see a beautiful duck with green, pewter, tan, white and even some blue plumage. That is, indeed, a wood duck — a male wood duck in its breeding plumage.

If you saw a female wood duck, immature wood duck or male wood duck in its non-breeding plumage, you’d never find it in that field guide and you’d have a hard time believing someone who told you it was a wood duck because it looks nothing like the beautiful bird in the field guide.

Sometimes field guides lie. Well, they leave out a lot of the truth at least. There are top-quality field guides out there and even they can’t portray every bird in every possible plumage. Between the breeding, non-breeding and transitional plumages, it’s impossible to fit every variation of every bird into a book. That’s not even to mention all the other plumage oddities, such as leucism, albinoism and other conditions.

The same can be said for bird sounds as well. There are dozens of apps and websites out there now that feature bird sounds, but as terrific and helpful as they are, they can’t Continue reading