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I have recently developed an interest in bird watching as a hobby. This would be more than just watching the feeders in my yard; I’d like to record my sightings and try to spot as many of the birds in my region (and during travel) as I can, including trips to spot specific species still on my list.

I have excellent distance vision, but I am red-green colorblind. Is that going to be a problem in identifying certain kinds of birds? I live in the Mid-Atlantic region of the US.

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    We are all colorblind when it comes to birds - many of them are quite colorful in the UV spectrum, while looking drab to humans. – rumtscho Sep 14 at 10:37
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    Completely anecdotally, I've got a friend who's an avid birdwatcher but has protanomaly and has issues distinguishing between certain colours (indeed he even added an alternative colour scheme to a video game he maintains to work around this). – Muzer Sep 14 at 12:52
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    If bird-identification apps are anything to go by, ordinary color vision isn't good enough -- a birdwatcher needs to be able to distinguish fine color variations such as the difference between "brown", "buff", and "tan". – Mark Sep 14 at 21:50
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Colour is only one of several visual clues for identification. It's useful to a novice who gets a good look (I regard myself as a perpetual novice when it comes to birds), but shape (bill and whole bird) and behaviour are crucial too. Very few species are distinguished by colour features alone. Many species have a habit of perching where the light does funny things to the colours anyway, like among sunlit leaves. The learning curve may be a bit steeper for you, but by concentrating on other aspects you'll come to understand the birds more, and in a group of birders a different approach is useful.

Apart from these visual clues, habitat and especially sound are very useful. You may want to emphasise the latter more than many beginners.

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My son is red-green colour blind, and he has the superpower that goes with colour blindness: his eyes are much less easily fooled by camouflage. My lay understanding is that colour blind people are much more sensitive to hues than to colour patterns, and camouflage is based on colour patterns. When we go to the zoo, he's our "camo critter spotter". He often gives us pointers that go something like "So, look at the back of the pen near the tree on the left. Look for the grass that isn't waving in the breeze. That's not grass, that's a tiger." Where I take a minute or two to spot something, he'll have it mapped out in seconds. The difference is astonishing.

I think you might have a few advantages for bird spotting, particularly the birds that sit quiet and still.

Fun 3-minute video on the subject:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9NrmH039ffI

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  • Interesting, I've never noticed an advantage in spotting animals, though as I said, I have always had good distance vision in a family of mostly nearsighted people (my siblings all got my mom's eyes, I got my dad's), so maybe I just assumed this was part of it. – ruffdove Sep 13 at 19:08
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    Sounds like two bird spotters - one red/green blind and one not - would be a powerful combination. Since only 5% of the population (10% of men and a negligible number of women) have any form of color-blindness, you should be in demand! – Adam Chalcraft Sep 14 at 2:47
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    I will definitely second this--I have something of a red-green weakness (I see the bright colors fine, the subtle ones get me and ones which are too small get me--I usually can't tell if the 1-pixel line is red or green) and I think I was 12 or 13 before I understood the concept of camouflage. Nature programs would talk about the the tiger hiding in the grass when it was as plain as day to me. – Loren Pechtel Sep 14 at 3:45
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    An article which supports this statement. "The findings lend credence to the theory that people with red-green color blindness make good hunters or soldiers because they are not easily fooled by camouflage." – Hermann Sep 14 at 7:56
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    @Jason your description of your son’s designation process is a great example of how colorblind people work : they "reason" in terms of shape, distance, position, texture, movement, but NOT color. It took me years to realise that. :-) – breversa Sep 14 at 8:43
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An obstacle, but not large. The size,location,actions, calls/song, are more important than the specific colors. For example , a wood pecker is pretty easy to recognize by their vertical perching on a tree trunk (typically) and if the red markings that nearly all of them have appeared green ,I doubt that would be a problem. Warblers come in a variety of colors but the patterns , which will have some black and some white ,and the geographical location and local locations ( swamp or field, etc.) will help identify them. I think, just like any other bird-watcher , identification ability will come with experience.

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If you're color blind red and green look about the same to people. However shape, and physical features are more determined factors for bird identification. Color is a huge asset in easily identifying birds., There' are 19 species of Macaw's...color is their typical factor that sets them apart. Example pic Scarlet Macaw (Ara macao), Blue-and-yellow Macaw (Ara ararauna) and Military Macaw (Ara militaris) enter image description here

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  • Hi @LazyReader - please read other answers before posting. The top voted answer covers your points here. – Rory Alsop Sep 17 at 13:41

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