Monday, August 29, 2011

Top 5 Most Common Birds


     Telling birds apart can be confusing. Many of them look alike. A lot of the ones that are often seen in the village are roughly the same size. They also move around a lot and are difficult to observe. They constantly hop from branch to branch and hide within the foliage of the trees. How can a novice birdwatcher tell them apart?

     One way to sort out the confusion is to just choose the top 5 birds that one is most likely to encounter and familiarize yourself with those birds first. Studying and memorizing the features of 5 birds is certainly much easier and less daunting than studying all 60 species found in the village or 500+ species found in the Philippines.

      Birdwatchers use field marks to identify a bird. These are particular features of the bird that the observer looks for to differentiate one species from another. These are details like color of the legs or presence of rings around the eyes. In the early 19th century, British gentlemen who wanted to study birds went out and shot and skinned them so that they could view them in hand. It was not until binoculars and field guides were created could birds be studied without their being shot.

     The 5 species of birds most likely to be seen in the village are the maya or Eurasian Tree Sparrow, the Yellow Vented Bulbul, the Pied Fantail, the Long Tailed Shrike, and the Olive Backed Sunbird.

     The most common backyard resident is the ubiquitous maya or Eurasian Tree Sparrow (Passer montanus). This is the small brown bird with a short black bill that is usually seen in small flocks. It is the bird that usually gets attracted when people set out bird feeders or scatter birdseed or rice on the ground. The field mark to look for is the white patch on its cheek. 

Eurasian Tree Sparrow by Tonji Ramos

     The Yellow-vented Bulbul (Pycnonotus goiavier) or is bigger than a maya . It is olive-brown with a black forehead, and white chest and belly. The field mark to look for is the white eyebrow and yellow undertail feathers. 
Yellow-vented Bulbul by Tonji Ramos
     The Pied Fantail (Rhipidura javanica) or maria cafra is a black and white bird. Its distinctive features are its long black tail that is edged in white and white eyebrow. It frequently spreads its tail out like a fan, as befits its name. It has white underparts with a black band across its chest.

Pied Fantail by Tonji Ramos
     The Long-tailed Shrike (Lanius schach) or tarat is a handsome bird with a long, slender tail. It has a black head, chunky bill, and white underparts. It is cinnamon colored on its back and the lower sides of its torso. The black, white, and cinnamon colors, plus its long tail give it its distinctive look. 

Long-tailed Shrike by Tonji Ramos
     The Olive-backed Sunbird (Nectarinia jugularis) is a small bird with an olive green back and yellow underparts. The males have an iridescent metallic blue throat. Its distinctive feature is its long, thin, pointed and downward curving beak.

Olive Backed Sunbird by Sylvia Ramos
     A surprising benefit this technique is that after taking the time to study the 5 most common birds, all the other birds will seem to easily fall into place. It’s like the roadmap for recognizing birds has been planted in your brain and it will become easier to see the distinctive features and field marks of all the different birds in the village.


  1. Hi, I landed on your page while reading about the yellow vented bulbul. Nice photos.

    Do drop in to see my birds blog here -

    By the way, I found it odd that you called the eurasian sparrow the maya bird (Most bird watchers swear that the maya bird is really the chestnut munia - Lonchura atricapilla) I wonder why....

    1. Hi City Warbler! Thanks for the link to your blog. Nice to see you getting into birds!

      About using the "wrong" common name for the Eurasian Tree Sparrow-- I was just bowing to conventional use since I know that most non-birders use the name "maya" for the Eurasian Tree Sparrow. And it's not entirely wrong since the Filipino name for the bird is "Mayang Bahay". Chestnut Munia is "Mayang-dampol" and Scaly Breasted Munia is "Mayang Paking".


  2. I always see quite a number of chestnut munia in our backyard. They like to sit on long blades of grass in groups of three up to maybe about five and as they're so small, the blade of grass can actually support the whole group..


    1. Chestnut Munias are really cute! Wonderful to hear that you have them in your backyard. :D

  3. Hi Sylvia. I am looking for a bird that may be a common PH bird that I've seen in the grassy fields of BGC when there were few buildings there and near our QC home. It is slightly larger than the Eurasian Sparrow and looks "fat." Its feathers are brownish and somewhat blueish, and have a consistent pattern--no color stands out. From what I have observed near our home, they usually walk through grassy areas, there would be one to four of them, and it seems they like walking more than flying. I don't have a photo. Would you know this bird? BTW, I've seen a Sunbird near our home, which at first I thought to be a Hummingbird due to its size and beak. You can almost copy its loud tweeting sound.

    1. Hi! Sorry to get back to you so late. I think your mystery bird is a Zebra Dove. They are somewhat blueish and they do like to walk around a lot. It's weird to see them "run" away from you instead of fly!
      Here's a link to Zebra Dove photos on my website of Philippine birds:

      Do let me know if this solves the mystery!

    2. I also wrote about Zebra Doves here in this blog:

    3. Thank you Sylvia. ;)

  4. Another most common is the White Collared Kingfisher, almost every electric wire have them.