About the Author: Ted Floyd

Ted Floyd is the longtime Editor of Birding magazine, and he is broadly involved in other programs and initiatives with the ABA. Ted has written 200+ magazine articles and 5 books, including How to Know the Birds (National Geographic, 2019). He is a frequent speaker at birding festivals and has served on several nonprofit boards. Join Ted at The ABA Blog for his semimonthly spot, “How to Know the Birds,” celebrating common birds and the uncommonly interesting things they do.

How to Know the Birds: No. 78, In the Catbird Seat

By |September 26th, 2023|How To Know The Birds|

There’s a saying, “in the catbird seat,” attributed to the 20th-century baseball broadcaster Red Barber, that contains a nice bit of basic bird biology. You see, catbirds like to have the upper hand. Catbirds like to know what’s going on. Catbirds like to be in control of the situation. They’re watching your every move from their redoubt in the thicket, You can’t even see the bird...

How to Know the Birds: No. 77, The G. O. D. Theorem—Revisited

By |September 5th, 2023|How To Know The Birds|

It is natural to romanticize about the good old days. “Walking to school in the snow, uphill, both ways” is something I reveled in—and still revel in. Give me a proverbial “death march,” every time. My future me will thank my present me for the bragging rights. Perhaps there’s a twinge of regret, bordering on guilt, about how easy...

How to Know the Birds: No. 76, Enjoying Vireos in the Age of Merlin Bird ID

By |June 27th, 2023|How To Know The Birds|

Don’t get tripped up on the supposed differences between the subjective experiences of hearing and seeing. We make sense of sound, largely without knowing we’re doing it, through the non-conscious process of something strikingly similar to spectrographic analysis. The spectrogram of that vireo’s song is absolutely a picture of the bird. It depicts a plumbeous vireo, not a gray vireo, because [...]

Amazing Milestone for Guy McCaskie

By |May 29th, 2019|Current|

May 29, 2019 How many bird species are on the official list of your state or province? If you’re an ABA member, there’s a decent chance that total is somewhat less than 500. Okay, now how many species have been reported from your county? There are a tiny handful of outliers, but the vast majority of U.S. and Canadian counties are well shy of 500. Needless to say, individual birders’ county lists are lower still. With one notable exception. On Monday, May 27, 2019, legendary birder and field ornithologist Guy McCaskie saw a Hudsonian Godwit on the read more >>

How to Know the Birds: No. 72, Layover Birding

By |January 17th, 2023|How To Know The Birds|

Even when everything goes smoothly, airport layovers are an “exercise” in sedentariness. Which isn’t to say birdlessness. On the contrary, airport layovers sometimes result in life birds; that’s happened to me more than once. For those of us on eBird consecutive days streaks, airport layovers . . .

How to Know the Birds: No. 71, “SKUA!”

By |December 20th, 2022|How To Know The Birds|

The subantarctic skuas of South Georgia aren’t the star attraction of that fabled wildlife-watching destination in the Southern Ocean. That title is shared equally among, I would say, the king penguins, South Georgia pipits, and southern elephant seals that call South Georgia home. No, the skuas don’t get a piece of the pie of that three-way tie. But I think they were my favorite vertebrates on South Georgia.

The ABA Young Birder of the Year Contest: Advice from a Writing Module Judge

By |February 2nd, 2022|Young Birder of the Year|

For so many of us, birding and writing go hand in hand. You can’t have one without the other. You observe a cool bird behavior or discover a new field mark, and you’re compelled to write about it. Birding and field ornithology are fundamentally about sharing, and even in this age of Twitter and Facebook—wait a minute, especially in this age of Twitter and Facebook—the written word is the way so many of us communicate. Hence the Writing Module in the ABA Young Birder of the Year contest. If you’re going to make a difference as a birder, you’re going read more >>

How to Know the Birds: No. 61, The End of Birding

By |June 1st, 2021|How To Know The Birds|

The cactus wren, unlike so many other birds, is the same species now as when I first laid eyes on one 30 years ago. It has the same scientific name and the same standard English name. It’s still a passerine, and still a wren, still in pretty much the same place in the field guide. It sings the same song, wears the same plumage, and haunts the same habitats.

How to Know the Birds: No. 37, Two Truths About Birding

By |June 30th, 2020|How To Know The Birds|

Seeing the bird was bittersweet for me. Sweet: What’s not to like about seeing a rock wren, indeed seeing and hearing and experiencing an entire landscape come alive with these blithe, brown birds? Bitter: I wish I’d been there with my friends from Camp Colorado, understandably canceled out of concern for the health of would-be campers and the broader community.

How to Know the Birds: No. 36, The Last Grasshopper Sparrow

By |June 16th, 2020|How To Know The Birds|

The bird was a grasshopper sparrow, Ammodramus savannarum, singing, as grasshopper sparrows are wont to do, in the middle of the night. The time was 12:26 am. The full moon peeked through the haze and persistent cloud cover, but it was to be of no use in actually seeing the sparrow. Which was the whole point of this exercise. My companion and I had come to this place specifically to hear the unseen bird.

How to Know the Birds: No. 34, Culture Shock and a Stealth Success Story

By |May 19th, 2020|How To Know The Birds|

If there’s a silver lining in the cloud of the coronavirus, it’s that so many people are noticing birds for the first time. Even in this era of social distancing, people are also noticing other birders and engaging the broader birding community. Some of them will find their way to the ABA. But even those who do not will, at least to some degree, find themselves within the ABA’s sphere of influence.

How to Know the Birds: No. 33, Thirty Intense Seconds with an Extreme Robin

By |May 5th, 2020|How To Know The Birds|

I miss the spring bird festivals and road trips to vagrant traps, but I’m also enjoying Q. T. with common birds as never before. It can be hard to stay sane and centered in these trying times, and I don’t mean to minimize that reality; but it is also gratifying that, even though we cannot go far away to see them right now, birds are more comforting and more wonderful than ever.

How to Know the Birds: No. 31, Social Distancing with a Shelter-in-Place Solitaire

By |April 7th, 2020|How To Know The Birds|

True to form, the backyard solitaire is, well, solitary. This is a species that had the social distancing thing perfected long before social distancing was a human thing. Prediction: The Merriam–Webster Word of the Year for 2020 is going to be "social distancing." Either that or "shelter in place." That’s another behavior our backyard solitaire has down.

So You’re Noticing Birds All of a Sudden . . .

By |April 4th, 2020|Current|

Here’s the deal: We’re all sheltering in place, we’re all staying at home, and we’re all, frankly, looking for ways to take our minds off the COVID-19 crisis, if even for a short while. And birding, it turns out, is a superb activity if you can’t get out of the neighborhood, if you can’t even get out of the house.

Five Things ABA Members and Other Birders Can Do—and Should Do—During the Ongoing COVID-19 Emergency

By |March 12th, 2020|Current|

First things first. We at the ABA are taking this seriously. The COVID-19 emergency is affecting all of us in ways that go well beyond our lives as birders. As students, parents, neighbors, and more, we are part of a global civilization that is bigger than the American birding community. That said, we are firm in our conviction that our actions as birders are relevant to the present situation, and that, with appropriate caution, they might contribute positively in these stressful times. Here are five actions that we ask you to consider: 1. Go birding! At read more >>

How to Know the Birds: No. 29, Mind of the Magpie

By |March 10th, 2020|How To Know The Birds|

I’ve encountered an awful lot of black-billed magpies in my life, and, truth be told, I rarely if ever encounter the “perfect” bird. That’s because magpies are far too busy being admirably, absorbingly, utterly fascinating. Spend an hour with a pair of magpies, as I did late last month, and you will come away from the experience amazed and humbled.

How to Know the Birds: No. 23, Parakeet Possessions

By |December 17th, 2019|How To Know The Birds|

The parakeets own this place. They shriek and squeak and squawk like nobody’s business. They’re green, for crying out loud. Like Huckleberry Finn, that most exemplary and free-spirited of Americans, they come and go as they please. The Monk Parakeets are Brooklyn originals, born and bred in Green-Wood Cemetery, native New Yorkers to the core.

How to Know the Birds: No. 22, The Common Kiskadee

By |December 3rd, 2019|How To Know The Birds|

Without giving it too much thought, What are some of the great places in the ABA Area? Alaska and Hawaii, for starters. The Chiricahuas, the Salton Sea, and the Everglades, needless to say. Cape May and Central Park and Montrose Point, of course. But I want to make a special shoutout here to South Texas, and to the lower Rio Grande valley in particular.

How to Know the Birds: No. 21, Hawaii’s Most Perfect Bird

By |November 19th, 2019|How To Know The Birds|

As I watched the snoozing tattler, I gave thought again to the matter of belonging—to the conundrum of a bird that “belongs” to salt spray and sea rocks in the tropics, but also to remote and rugged mountains in the arctic, to lonely expanses of open ocean, to homeless encampments along a multi-use trail, to the glitz and glitter of the big city.

How to Know the Birds: No. 20, Alien Fairies in the Big City

By |November 5th, 2019|How To Know The Birds|

Before we proceed any further, let’s play a little game. Let’s pretend we don’t know where we are. We scan around for clues and we see: Rush hour traffic—check. Pedestrians—check. Palm trees—check. Tall buildings—check. So far, so good. We’re plausibly in any one of those five densely populated cities. Now take a look directly overhead:

How to Know the Birds: No. 12, Merganser Musings

By |July 16th, 2019|How To Know The Birds|

The adult male, or “drake,” hooded merganser, Lophodytes cucullatus, has got to be just about the most ridiculously photogenic bird in the ABA Area. No matter how often I see one—the species has been expanding its range and increasing in number for several decades now—I can’t help myself. I have to take a picture.

How to Know the Birds: No. 11, Beware Expectation

By |July 2nd, 2019|How To Know The Birds|

I was leading a field trip a couple weeks ago, and our group came across this bird. One of the trip participants needed Hammond’s flycatcher for his county list, and we were at a good elevation—and a good part of the state—for that long-winged, small-billed, and generally dumpy empid. Was it a Hammond’s?

How to Know the Birds: No. 10, Dvořák’s Vireo

By |June 18th, 2019|How To Know The Birds|

A few years ago, I was, for whatever reason, studying the score of the scherzo of Dvořák’s quartet, and it struck me that the celebrated “tanager” passage, measures 21–24, is an absolutely terrible transcription of Piranga olivacea, the scarlet tanager. However, it provides an eerily close match to an utterly different-looking bird species...


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