Birding Basics

Do you often see or hear birds but don’t know how to identify them? Birding is a safe outdoor activity, and you can use our custom birding bingo to get started! And be sure to come see us at UGA Aquarium for the World Migratory Bird Day celebration. 

More than just pretty animals, birds are an important part of the ecological system, including the Ogeechee River basin. Various species inhabit different layers of the food web — from birds that eat seeds and insects to the most expert hunting predators. They keep populations in check.

They also help spread seeds and pollen which is vital for plant growth. Maintaining a healthy environment for birds to thrive is crucial to the balance of ecosystems locally and globally.

Red-shouldered hawk. Photo by Chris S. Wood, Macauley Library

What is “birding”? 

Birding is the act of birdwatching for recreational, research, or citizen science reporting purposes. Also known as ‘birdwatching,’ it’s the observation of birds in their natural habitats as a hobby or an amateur activity.

Wood Storks. Photo by Mary Ellen Urbanski. Harris Neck National Wildlife Refuge

I see birds all the time, but I don’t know what I’m looking at. 

Learn what to look or listen for when birding starting with color, shape, flight pattern, body size, bill or beak shape, calls and more. 

Check out these sites for bird guides. 

Cornell Lab of Ornithology

Birdwatcher’s Digest

Rare birds in the ORK watershed

Northern parula on red twig. Photo by Dan Fein.

I’m enjoying this. How can I get better?

Consider purchasing a pair of binoculars (aka “bins”) and searching out local birding trails or sites. You might also join a local chapter of the Audubon Society, an organization dedicated to protecting birds and sharing resources for enthusiasts.

Audubon Society

Ogeechee Audubon Society

Coastal Georgia Audubon Society

Georgia Audubon Society

Birding trails in Georgia

Always follow the American Birding Association Code of Birding Ethics

American Goldfinch. Photo by Adam Jackson, Macauley Library.

I want to share some of the amazing things I’ve seen. Is there a way to do that?

Engage in citizen science. Download the eBird app for free. It’s a digital way to keep track of the birds you see or hear while birding. This type of citizen science reporting — the collection of scientific data by amateur scientists — benefits the people participating as well as researchers.

Read about Isaiah Scott, birding enthusiast and local student

Adult male Barn Owl. Photo by Shlomo Neuman, Audubon Photography Awards

ORK Birding Activity

  • Plan a birding trip in your backyard or neighborhood park, near a waterway or in a city greenspace.
  • Download eBird and record what you see/hear. If you aren’t sure how to ID a certain bird, you can search through the Cornell Lab of Ornithology website by characteristics. 
  • Share your checklists with Ogeechee Riverkeeper through eBird by searching “Ogeechee Riverkeeper” or via ORK’s eBird profile

You may also share your findings and photos through email at

Tag us on social media with your research adventures and use #ORKOutside.

This activity is compatible with Project Wild “Bird Song Survey” activity which is geared towards middle and high school students in science and environmental education. Birding in general can be a fun family/friends outing for all ages, abilities, and environments. 

Activity is open to all ages and meets the needs or can be combined with other activities for the following Georgia Standards of Excellence in science, ecology, environmental science, and zoology.

  • S3L2. Obtain, evaluate, and communicate information about the effects of pollution (air, land, and water) and humans on the environment.
  • S4L1. Obtain, evaluate, and communicate information about the roles of organisms and the flow of energy within an ecosystem.
  • SEC3. Obtain, evaluate, and communicate information to construct explanations of community interactions.
  • SB6. Obtain, evaluate, and communicate information to assess the theory of evolution.
  • SEC5. Obtain, evaluate, and communicate information on the impact of natural and anthropogenic activities on ecological systems.

World Migratory Bird Day

Celebrate World Migratory Bird Day with ORK at the UGA Aquarium! Learn about the incredible diversity of birds that visit the Georgia coast each year during their migratory journeys. Bring the family for a fun day of hands-on activities and animal encounters.

Throughout the day, UGA Aquarium educators will be joined by ornithological organizations and birding experts who will have stations set up along the aquarium’s picnic area and Jay Wolf Nature Trail with educational activities for all age groups.

The World Migratory Bird Day event is included with the cost of admission to the UGA Aquarium.​ Learn more about admission fees at

World Migratory Bird Day is an annual global campaign coordinated by Environment for the Americas that celebrates the migration of birds across countries and continents. This year’s theme is “dim the lights for birds at night,” and participating organizations are sharing steps that communities can take to reduce the impact of light pollution on migrating birds. Learn more at


Fauna: Eudocimus albus

Photo by Samarra Mullis

Eudocimus albus
White ibis

The white ibis is a wading bird that lives in coastal areas, marshes, wetlands, riverbanks, and swamps. With long pink legs, it stands about 2 feet tall. Its plumage is nearly entirely white, with a small bit of black on the tips of its wings. The black wing tips are generally only visible when the ibis is in flight. 

White ibis feed by dragging their long bill in shallow waters and mudflats. Their diet is a variety of small crustaceans, fish, frogs, insects, and other small creatures. In the 1830s, John James Audubon noted some people hunting and eating white ibis. The flavor was reportedly fishy.

White Ibis by John James Audubon

White ibis live in large colonies, usually building their nests in trees. They typically lay 2-4 eggs and the parents take turns staying with their young. As their habitat has changed, particularly in their Floridian breeding locations, white ibis are likely to be seen in neighborhood canals and golf course water features.

Photo by Samarra Mullis

They are also common in the lower part of the Ogeechee and Canoochee Rivers. Though they may be seen in coastal areas, they feed and live in freshwater habitats. Native American folklore assigned it to be the symbol of danger and hope, as it is said to be the last animal to take refuge before a hurricane, and the first to emerge after a storm. 

Isaiah Scott

Isaiah Scott can’t pinpoint exactly when he first became enamored with nature. He grew up in the Savannah area and spent plenty of time outside and playing in the backyard. Like most kids, he was really into nature books, especially ones about dinosaurs. But he does recall when he first became interested in birds.

The family was taking his older brother to visit Cornell and Scott saw a brochure for their Lab of Ornithology. He insisted they visit and it was transformative for him. “I got my first pair of binoculars from their gift shop. I had the best time birding that day.” He was 13. Now with a successful bird art business and sponsored deals, he’s set to head off to Cornell himself in the fall.


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A post shared by Isaiah scott (@ikesbirdinghikes)

“Birding helped me find my identity,” Scott says. “I found a fiery passion.” Yet Scott was keenly aware that he wasn’t your typical birder – he was barely in high school and he was a young Black man. “At first, it didn’t feel normal for Black youth, but then I realized it made me feel unique and I wanted to be a leader in the field. And when I learned about Dr. J. Drew Lanham, that inspired me to keep going.” 

Scott found a community of birders online and connected with enthusiasts from around the world. They traded photos of rare birds and tips for finding unusual species. They also created a network of support and encouraged one another. If Scott started out with the sense he was alone in his interest, those days are over. “The outdoors belong to everyone,” he says. “There’s a whole movement and I’m almost overwhelmed.”

He has also turned his love of birds into a bit of a cottage industry. A self-taught artist, he paints realistic images onto leather bags and notecard sets. He even sold one to his hero Dr. Lanham. “I was just drawing in class one day and a teacher said I should try a wood duck. That was when people saw what I could do.”


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A post shared by Isaiah Scott (@therookerycollection)

Scott is the 2021 recipient of the Eckelberry Fellowship from Drexel University, a project fund that will allow him to further research the Gullah-Geechee connection to the land. His aim is to publish a birding field guide using Gullah-Geechee language, terms, and knowledge. He cites the example of the bobolinks which would stop to feed on plantations, being known as ‘rice birds’ to the enslaved people. “I also want to visit Barbados and track the movement of the enslaved people and see how they connected nature in these areas.” The grant will be administered by Ogeechee Aubudon

As he gets ready to head up to Ithaca, he’s decided to major in environment and sustainability. It’s my lifestyle and I always have the mindset to conserve and protect the environment.” And, of course, he’ll spend plenty of time at the Ornithology lab.

This is the third in a series of posts about Black environmentalists. Read the stories of  the Colonel Charles Young, Gullah-Geechee Heritage Corridor, and Dr. Sue Ebanks.

Fauna: Passerina ciris

Painted Bunting by Dan Pancamo

Passerina ciris

The brightly colored bird is a member of the cardinal family and lives in the southeast and south-central United States, including coastal Georgia. Females and immature males are a parrot green color. At about two years old, the male’s feathers turn multiple tones of red, indigo, yellow, and more.

Color engraving by R. Havell, after drawing by John J. Audubon – Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington

They breed in maritime hammocks, scrubland, briar patches, woodland edges and swampy thickets. The females typically lay 3-4 eggs, twice a year. The fledglings take just a couple of weeks to leave the nest after hatching. The population is estimated at about 4.5 million, but that number is decreasing.

Painted Bunting (Female) by Dan Pancamo

The painted bunting was originally described by Carl Linnaeus in his eighteenth-century work Systema Naturae. The Swedish naturalist did a taxonomy of plants in 1753 and followed up with animals in 1758 and 1759.

Cover of Systema Naturae, 10th edition

Painted buntings are territorial and can be seen throughout the Ogeechee River watershed and nearby areas like Harris Neck Wildlife Refuge.

Listen to the call of the Painted bunting.