Fans of birds flock to hear from expert

More than a hundred bird enthusiasts packed Eshelman Hall Auditorium on the campus of Davis & Elkins College Friday to glean tips for improving their bird identification skills and watch slides of some of West Virginia’s most beautiful birds.

The leader of this information-finding session was world-famous birding expert, Dr. Scott Shalaway.

A great portion of the audience attended as part of the 2013 West Virginia Master Naturalist Conference, but many attendees were simply curious individuals eager to learn how to identify the birds they see in their backyards.

Shalaway began sharing his knowledge by saying he feels it’s difficult for people to care about something with which they’re unfamiliar.

“Does anyone know what an olinguito is?” Shalaway asked.

Many people began describing traits of the mini-raccoon mammal that is 14 inches long with a 14-inch tail, weighing in at about 2 pounds.

Shalaway complimented them, saying the mammal had just been discovered on Thursday.

“It is a cute animal, and hard to overlook, but somehow science did,” Shalaway said. “There was even one in the Smithsonian National Zoo in Washington that was misidentified for years.”

Shalaway said his point is, people can’t care about something or conserve something if they don’t know about it.

“With that in mind, I wanted to teach you the naming process when you identify birds,” Shalaway said. “As I thought how to do that, I remembered a quote saying you cannot care about something until you can name it.”

Shalaway showed images of birds including a black bird, a belted kingfisher, a warbler, a masked flower piercer and a sword-billed hummingbird from Ecuador.

“To identify birds and put names to those birds, requires a fairly easy, simple skill,” Shalaway said. “You need to train your brain to make mental notes of things. You may have two seconds or five minutes, so you need to take advantage of the time the bird is in view. Items to remember include its size, its shape, markings, colors, behavior and what it’s saying.”

Shalaway said learning the process takes some time and effort.

“You need to spend a little time at your home and bird feeders with common, everyday birds, and you will pick it up fairly quick,” Shalaway said. “It is a mental skill. Then when the bird flies away, write everything about the bird down. Those are the steps to follow. When the bird is gone and you have written the information down, it is time to identify the bird by going to the field book or calling a friend. If you practice this, you will be able to identify 80 percent of the birds in your backyard.”

Shalaway said people are able to identify most birds they see if they take good notes featuring accurate descriptions of the bird. Following his presentation, Shalaway signed and sold copies of his books.

Contact Beth Christian Broschart by email at