I recently had a discussion with birding friends about the importance of a birding mentor when you’re starting–especially when you are kid. I never had that growing up, I didn’t find mentors until I was in my twenties and it was great. You learn so much that can’t be gleaned from just a field guide. You need someone out in the field with you over and over to help you figure those little peeps, sparrows and flycatchers or even the timing of certain bird species in migration or what habitat is best in your area.

savannah sparrow


“OMG, I just got this great shot of a bird, I tried looking for it but I can’t find it in my field guide. What is it?”

But the Internet is now the mentor for several new birders.  This has it’s own host of problems: posting a photo and asking for the id has about a 40% chance of giving you the incorrect id of that bird for one thing. I looked it up in a field guide, I know the above bird is a Savannah Sparrow).

And it’s the culmination of several factors: easy access to good photography equipment, the drive to create more bird watchers and encouraging them, and social media. Birding pages on social media sites aren’t just for reporting information, they are forums for bird photographers to share their images hoping for an audience to enjoy them or for a newbie to ask the world to identify their photos. Some identification challenges are understandable like a fall warbler, but some post every single photo they get. They say they attempted to look at a field guide, but perhaps they only have one and any birder worth their salt knows that you can’t just have one guide.  Several guides sometimes are needed to get a handle on a weird bird id.

Can this be fixed? Perhaps not. There are people who want to be inclusive with everyone. There are newer birders who anxious to have the chance to answer identification questions. Perhaps this is how a whole new crop of bird watchers will find their way to the field.

Also the bird at the top of the post is a juvy Clay-colored Sparrow.

Written by Birdchick
Sharon Stiteler was given a Peterson Field Guide to Birds when she was seven years old and snapped. She loves birds - it’s just the way she’s wired. Since 1997, she has made it her goal to get paid to go birding. She runs the popular birding blog, Birdchick.com, and has been in The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, and on NBC Nightly News as well as making regular appearances on Twin Cities’ TV and radio stations. She’s a professional speaker and story-teller and her writing can be found in several publications including WildBird Magazine, Outdoor News, and Birding Business. She wrote the books 1001 Secrets Every Birder Should Know, Disapproving Rabbits and City Birds/Country Birds. When she’s not digiscoping, tweeting or banding birds, she’s a part-time park ranger and award-winning beekeeper.