Identifying Birds

Bird identification doesn’t have to be difficult, however, and this topic can help you correctly identify any bird you find.

Observation is the most critical step for identifying wild birds, but it is also the one that most birders don’t spend enough time on. Observing is more than just looking at a bird, it is noting any unusual markings, shapes or colors that can help clarify the bird’s identity.

When observing birds, look for these characteristics:

Bill: Shape, color, length, curve and markings will show how the bird uses its bill and can be a key for proper identification. Also observe the size of the bill compared to the bird’s head and how high up on the head the bill reaches.

Color: Overall body colors and special patches of color are one of the easiest clues to a bird’s identity. Check the abdomen, head, back, chest, outer tail feathers, legs, eyes and feathers around the eyes for different colors.

Size:A bird’s overall size may be an easy way to identify birds with similar colors and markings. Note the body length, wingspan and body proportions for accurate bird identification. If there is no way to measure the bird, compare its size to more familiar birds and objects for a rough size estimate.

Habitat: Different birds occupy different territories. Observe the nearby habitat for clues to a bird’s identity. Characteristics such as the types of trees, density of plants, urbanization, water sources and elevation can be effective clues. Also note where the bird is observed – along the coast or inland, in a particular state, etc. – for comparison to current range maps for different species.

Behavior: Observing how birds behave can be challenging but can also be critical for proper wild bird identification. Note sounds, flight patterns, where the bird lands, what it eats and how it interacts with other birds.