How to Identify Large Birds

How to Identify Large Birds
When someone sights a large bird and does not know what kind it is, there are certain steps you can take to narrow the possibilities. There are specific things that the experienced bird watcher will look for and then carefully note, which allows the observer to refer back to a field guide and more often than not make an identification.


Difficulty: Moderate

How to Identify Large Birds

Things You’ll Need:
  • Field guide to birds
  • Binoculars
  • Notebook and pencil
Step 1
Realize that any large bird you see is likely to be a raptor or water bird. With the exception of crows and ravens, which are easily identifiable by their black color, large birds in North America will either be birds of prey or be a bird that lives in or near water. This significantly narrows what area of your bird guide to reference.
Step 2
Notice if the bird has a distinct shape. Determine if it has long legs, which would put it into the class of wading birds. Always carry a small notebook and pencil and make notes about the bird's tail, wings, neck, head and body. The wings in flight in particular can give important clues to a large bird's identity.
Step 3
Fixate on the bird's behavior. If a bird is landing in and swimming on the water, it is some type of waterfowl. Conclude that the bird is some sort of raptor if you see it with a dead animal in its possession on the ground or in the air. Watch birds walking along the shores of lakes and ponds and try to ascertain what they are doing. A pair of binoculars comes in handy when trying to find out what a large bird is doing.
Step 4
Determine a bird's habitat. Where you see the bird will be of immense help as you search the field guides for it. Large birds perching in trees are typically raptors watching the ground below for signs of movement by potential prey. Birds in an aquatic setting can be further categorized into those that stay near and on the shore, and those that are out on the water's surface. Make note of habitat such as open meadows, forests, marshes and urban settings to help identify the creature.
Step 5
Observe the specific colors and markings on the bird. This step is key as similar species differ from one another in their coloring. Field marks, which are the distinct shapes, patterns and colors on each part of the bird, have a great influence when it comes time to make a positive recognition of the large bird.

Tips & Warnings

Field guides to raptors and water birds are available for those who concentrate on discovering the identity of larger birds.

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