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About Piranga

Piranga is an interactive website developed to help students, volunteers and professional bird-banders improve their ability to accurately identify, age and sex birds in the hand or in the field, so that they can improve the quality of the data they collect through their banding programs. This module allows bird-banders to easily upload, share and comment on their photographs of birds in the hand, as well as the photos of others, in the hopes of creating a comprehensive library of images for both sexes and all ages of North American species. At present, the site can handle images of any species of bird from Canada, the U.S.A., and Mexico, though there are plans to include species from the Caribbean, Central and South America as well.

Piranga is designed to be used in combination with existing bander training reference materials, such as the ones listed below, to allow the user to practice and improve ageing and sexing techniques without requiring a bird in the hand, and also to provide comparative material in the field.

  • Pyle, P. 1997. Identification Guide to North American Birds, Part I: Columbidae to Ploceidae. Slate Creek Press, Point Reyes Station, Bolinas, CA, USA. 732 pp.
  • Pyle, P. 2008. Identification Guide to North American Birds, Part II: Anatidae to Alcidae. Slate Creek Press, Point Reyes Station, Bolinas, CA, USA. 836 pp.
  • North American Bird Banding Manual.

Piranga allows the user to browse through lists of species found in a particular region. Once a species is selected, contributors can see thumbnails of available images, and click on those to enlarge them. Users are encouraged to submit their own photos, and add comments describing how each bird’s age and sex was determined to help other bird-banders learn what to look for. For maximum benefit, users should compare Piranga’s comments and photographs with the descriptions in the reference materials listed above (e.g. Pyle 1997).

More than 60 species accounts in Piranga are curated by the Migration Research Foundation, mostly based on field study at McGill Bird Observatory. These accounts feature:

  • An introduction indicating general ageing/sexing possibilities and (where appropriate) caveats regarding similar species
  • A "quick tips" section, which highlights the features most reliable for ageing and sexing each species (note that for many species it is wise to base conclusions on agreement among two or more characteristics); tips are generally listed in decreasing order or typical reliability and ease of assessment
  • A tabular overview, providing a brief description of each age/sex class and thumbnail versions of available photos (generally body, open wing, and tail)
  • Commentary on key features of most individual photos

Background information on ageing can be found in McGill Bird Observatory's "Introduction to terminology and techniques".

Photos in Piranga are by default classified as "Contributed". For curated species accounts, some of the photos are selected for highlighting as "Reference" or "Supplemental":

  • Reference photos are those selected by the account editors as the best available examples showing the typical features of a given age/sex class
  • Supplemental photos are selected (where appropriate) to illustrate variants that occur
  • Contributed photos are all others that have been submitted, and have not necessarily been reviewed for quality or accuracy of age/sex determination

Note that many species accounts are incomplete, and some reference images are of suboptimal quality. Please help us continue to improve Piranga by uploading any images that will help us upgrade! Contributed images will be reviewed periodically to ensure that the best possible reference images are highlighted.

Users can also quiz themselves to see how well they are progressing. Before launching the quiz, the user may wish to restrict the species list or even develop their own custom list of species for study using the [Change Lists] option. When the quiz begins, the user will be shown a randomly selected bird from the list and will have a chance to identify the species and determine the bird’s age and sex. All images for that individual will be available during the quiz; the user can simply toggle through them using the [<<]  [>>] keys. The species must be correctly identified to get any points.

Note to the user: Do not be discouraged if you have trouble with determining the age or sex on the quiz, especially at first -- even the most experienced banders find it challenging to determine age and sex from photographs. Also, it is possible some photos are incorrectly labelled. If you find a bird for which you disagree with the age, sex or identity, please say so by describing why in the bird’s Comment field. The original contributor, as well as other users, will be able to see your comments and respond to them. If they decide you are right, they can change the original identification, age and/or sex as necessary. This module was created to promote learning; constructive discussions on ageing and sexing are welcomed and encouraged, as they can be excellent learning tools.

IMPORTANT: Most birds are protected in North America by federal, state, provincial or territorial law. Permits are therefore required before birds may be captured or marked. Participants are encouraged to contribute new photographs so the site will continue to improve over time, provided these participants have the appropriate training and government-issued permits required to safely and legally handle wild birds.

Return to Piranga home page.