10 Keys to Bird Identification

1. WATCH ITS ACTIONS

To identify a bird you need to see how it acts. Certain birds are known for standout behavior.  

  • Is the bird clinging to the tree trunk? 
  • Is it hopping on the ground pulling bugs? 
  • Does it scare away all the other birds from the feeder? 

By recognizing that behavior, it may make identifying a little easier if you don’t catch all of the physical characteristics.
 2. THE BEAK

Some beaks are long and thin, others are fat, some orange, and a lot are brown.  Make note of the color and size of a beak, and any
unusual characteristics: long, thin, thick, curved, pointed, short, etc. The type of beak will also give clues as to what the bird eats. 

 3. THE PLUMAGE

Jot down all of the colors and where they are visible.  Sometimes wing bars on a bird are only seen while it’s in flight.  If it’s flying away, it may be hard to get any of the other visuals to
identify it.

  • What is the main colored feather of the bird? 
  • Is the chest or head a different color? 
  • Does it have spots, stripes or wing bands? 

4. SIZE MATTERS

  • Is your bird very small or very large? 
  • Does it have a long tail compared to the rest of the body? 

For an easy comparison, use a bird you are familiar with. You can easily gauge the size of the bird you are viewing to one that you see quite regularily and late try to determine what it might be.

5. LISTEN

In general, birds use a whole repertoire of sounds in their vocabulary.  From short calls, to squawks to lovely songs, each is instrumental for communicating to other birds.  They also have special calls for certain activities they are performing.  Some calls can even be recognized and heeded by birds of other species.  
 
As for songs, each bird song is unique in its melody and quality. The songs usually happen between meals during daylight hours.  

6. FIGURATIVELY SPEAKING

The shape of a bird is indicative to what category it belongs to. Remembering
its general shape and appearance will lead you to its category.

The categories of birds are: perching birds, woodpeckers, water birds, birds of prey, owls, gulls, ducks and ground birds.  Certain
categories have more in depth sub-categories.

7. LET’S EAT!

Take note of what the bird is eating.  Determining its food will give you good clues to as to what type of bird it is.

8. WHERE ARE YOU WATCHING THE BIRD?

 Bird species will be more commonly found in areas where they nest or feed. If you know about the birds habitat and behaviors, it can help you determine the likely suspects andeliminated those which are unlikely.

Some birds prefer wide open grasslands, while others like pine forests and dead trees. Some birds will only be found along the shoreline or are only in the area at certain times of the year.

9. FLIGHT PATTERN

Birds have different wing lengths and styles of flying, just as people do walking.  Some will flap their wings quickly and non-stop, others slowly and glide. 

10. SEASONS OF CHANGE

The time of year you are watching birds can help determine the species. The weather turns cold in your area and some feathered friends
migrate during cooler months, mate in certain areas, then return “home” to raise babies.

By keeping a notebook near your bird watching station, you can quickly jot down features of an unknown bird until you can find it in your field guide. Digital cameras can provide instant replay until you have identified your subject.
 

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