Tips for Birdwatching at Hebgen Lake

The environment surrounding Hebgen Lake is a paradise for bird-watching enthusiasts. Even those who do not do birdwatching as a hobby will be marveled at the diversity of wildlife in the area. Near the campground at Hebgen Lake, you might chance upon sandhill cranes, western grebes, herons, osprey, white pelicans, Canadian geese, mallards, loons, wood ducks and bald and golden eagles.

A Yellowstone vacation calls for a really great pair of binoculars, and birdwatching is something the whole family can enjoy without any prior expertise. You can do birdwatching at the lakeside, from the boat, while on a hike up the hills, or from anywhere on the campground at Hebgen lake. If you are young to the exciting hobby of birdwatching, here are some guidelines that may help while you are here at Yellowstone Holiday.

When a bird appears, before you do anything else, watch it closely (use your binoculars). Birds are fast and flighty creatures. When they appear, it can be tempting to grab your bird field guide and frantically leaf through its pages, looking for the appropriate bird, but you will lose out on precious observations if you do this. Take the time to focus on the bird itself instead. Absorb what you are seeing before your eyes – the bird’s behaviors, how it eats, the way it moves, its nesting or eating habits, etc. You will learn a lot more about the bird this way. When you feel you have done enough observing, you can take notes in a notebook and search for the bird in your field guide. It can be fun to compare the things that you’ve observed with the data in the field guide.

Listen carefully to the songs and calls of the bird. When you’re in the wild it can be difficult to distinguish between bird vocalizations. What may help is if you keep your eye on the bird you are observing, taking care to look at the movement of its beak and its behavior to make sure it is the bird making the sound you are hearing. Birdcalls and birdsongs are very diverse. Being able to identify the unique call of a bird can help you identify the correct specie of bird.

Other traits birdwatchers use to help identify the scientific group a bird belongs to are size and shape. While birdwatching, compare the general size and shape of the bird to other common birds you may know, like pigeons or sparrows. Other physical traits to take note of are noticeable characteristics of the bird’s face and bill – including the shape and color of the bird’s bill, markings such as lines or spots on the bird’s face, or distinct patches of contrasting colors. Then take note of the bird’s body, its wings and tail. What marks or color patches do you see on the birds body? What is the shape of its tail? How do its wings unfold in flight? What color is the bird’s breast, back, and underwing? Look at the bird’s legs. What color are they? How long are they? Are its feet webbed?

In terms of behavior, observing the habits of a bird can offer a lot of insight into its classification. The way it flies, the way it walks, how it jumps or holds its tail. If you have the opportunity, watch how the bird eats. If you choose to go boating at Hebgen Lake, for example, you may notice a bird, such as a mallard, with its head dipped underwater as it gathers water into its bill and collects its food. This particular eating habit of the mallard is called dabbling.

Then, when all your observations are done, take in the details of the habitat that you observed the bird in. Were you in the woods, in a large grassy field, or on the lake? Also, notate what time of day and in what season you observed the bird. These details will further help you find the right name for the bird.

Lastly – enjoy!

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