Birding Connections: Online learning, volunteer bonding & birding in SLC



The lesson plans on Tracy Aviary’s Breeding Season Surveyors tab are keeping me up to date, even when I’m not there.

One of the projects that I have had the opportunity to help with during my time at the Tracy Aviary is this year's Breeding Season Survey Training. Through this I have been super excited to meet more community scientists and learn from peers who are dedicated to seeking out the birds of Salt Lake City. The normal path of training involves a ton of interaction between the Aviary’s Conservation Team and the fantastic mix of beginner and advanced birders in our community.

COVID-19 definitely changed our plans for what the training for the 2020 Breeding Season Survey would look like. With the world asking everyone to stay home and limit their contact with the people around them, my daily life changed a lot. I was excited to see how the Tracy Aviary was going to adjust the lesson plans to maintain the flow of knowledge and the peer interaction during these trying times.


 How Can Such Different Looking Birds Sound So Similar?

During the last 4 weeks of online training, the similarities in the looks of the birds was striking: Mourning and Collared Doves, American and Lesser Goldfinch, and even the Downy Woodpecker and Northern Flicker all made a beginner like me have to think hard about the characteristics I’d learned in the training! The lessons for these bird pairs was to identify pictures by using the differences of their plumage, the way that their tails look, and even the sizes of their heads. The calls, although similar, were distinct for each species and gave life to the images I had seen on my computer.

But this week, the real learning exercise was the calls and songs of the three birds of Week 5. Black-Billed Magpies, Black-Capped Chickadees, and European Starlings all sounded so similar to me! But the tracks, identification points, and pictures helped me to learn to identify the three new species while getting me ready for the Salt Lake breeding season. I have a massive Magpie nest right next to my house, and I see Chickadees on all my runs- hearing actual tracks of their calls has helped me identify them while they’re hidden from my view.




Magpies and Chickadees and Starlings oh my! I can see the Week 5 birds from my own backyard.

Even though the training for our Breeding Season Survey has to remain online this year, we are still hoping to have a normal survey season in 2020- complete with volunteers getting together and working closely to identify all that Salt Lake has to offer. Through the weekly online bird identification training for both sightings and vocalizations, facebook groups, Zoom calls, and homework assignments to connect with our peers and talk about our personal sightings- the Tracy Aviary has been able to create an environment where all of our community scientists can get together virtually and gain the skills we will all need to survey the birds of Salt Lake come the breeding season.


- AJ Johnson, Conservation Intern, Tracy Aviary 

Learn More:

Learn how you can stay connected to Tracy Aviary volunteer opportunities during the Coronavirus shutdown:

Learn some bird identification skills, too, with coloring pages on our Virtual Aviary!