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About Piranga

The Piranga module of NatureInstruct is a photo-illustrated resource designed to help you improve your ability to accurately identify, age, and sex birds in the hand and in the field. Piranga complements existing training and reference materials for bird banders, most notably the two volumes of Peter Pyle’s Identification Guide to North American Birds:

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

Piranga has evolved from an initial set of 60 species accounts prepared by McGill Bird Observatory. It currently includes 80 “curated” species accounts that include both reference photos and descriptive text, and partial content for over 150 additional species. Our goal is to eventually provide a comprehensive resource featuring images for both sexes and all applicable ages for all Western Hemisphere bird species.

Each of the curated species accounts has five main sections:

  1. An overview of the typical molt sequence followed by the species.
  2. Introductory text that identifies the molt strategy of the species, key considerations for determining sex, and any notable caveats regarding ageing or species identification. See Piranga’s Glossary section for definitions of unfamiliar terms.
  3. A set of 2-5 “quick tips”, pointing out the features that are most reliable for ageing the species; these are generally listed in decreasing order of typical reliability and ease of assessment.
  4. An illustrated overview of molt cycle age/sex classes, typically featuring thumbnail images of body/wing/tail that can be clicked on to view in larger form.
  5. A list of unknown-age categories that are appropriate to use for the species.

Photos in Piranga are classified as “Reference”, “Supplemental”, or “Contributed”:

  • Reference photos are those selected by Piranga editors as the best available images 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 other submitted photos that have not yet been reviewed for quality or accuracy of age/sex determination or have not been selected as a reference or supplemental photo.

Note that many species are not yet represented or have incomplete accounts in Piranga. You can help improve Piranga by uploading your high quality images to fill gaps, or by writing descriptive text for a species you know well! Visit the Contribute to Piranga page for more information.

Piranga has a quiz feature where you can test your ability to identify, age, and sex a bird based on a randomly selected photo. All available images for a given individual can be viewed during the quiz; move through the images using the [<>] keys. To score any points, you must correctly identify the species (similar to how a bird bander must identify a species before banding it). You can customize the quiz by restricting the species to certain regions, or creating your own list of species for study using the [Change Lists] option. Do not get discouraged if you have trouble determining age or sex of quiz birds! Even experienced banders can find it challenging to determine age and sex from photographs.

We created Piranga to promote learning, and strive for accuracy – but we recognize that errors can occur. If you find an image that you believe has been incorrectly labelled, please describe 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 a correction is warranted, we will edit the account accordingly. Constructive discussions on ageing and sexing are welcomed and encouraged, as they can be excellent learning tools.