How to Identify Wild Birds

How to Identify Wild Birds
Bird-watchers have many tools that they use to identify birds. The most important of these is a field guide that lists the birds in their part of the country. With a reliable field guide and knowledge of what keys to look for, an individual can eventually identify the wild birds they come across in their travels.


Difficulty: Moderately Challenging

Things You’ll Need:
  • Field guide to birds of your area Binoculars
  • Field guide to birds of your area
  • Binoculars
Step 1
Use the silhouette of a bird to help identify it. Become familiar with what certain groups of birds look like from a distance. Remember that you can tell how big a bird is and get an idea of its overall proportions from viewing its silhouette, without ever getting a close-up view of it. Once you are proficient at knowing a bird just from its shape, you will rapidly eliminate many birds and have the ability to focus on a particular family when using a field guide.
Step 2
Judge a bird's size against one with which you are familiar. All bird-watchers know how often they see common birds such as robins, jays, sparrows, crows and ducks. Use this information to help identify a bird in the wild. By comparing it in terms of size to a frequently encountered bird, you have a starting point when looking through your guide.
Step 3
Focus on birds' body parts, such as the legs, neck, wings and bill. Observe closely their shape and size. Try to ascertain how large the body parts are in relation to the bird itself.
Step 4
Recognize the color pattern of a bird. Avoid trying to match the picture of a bird in your guide feather for feather against those you see in a wild setting. Realize that birds molt and that the feathers on a young bird will differ from those on an older one.
Step 5
Study the behavior of the bird when the opportunity exists. Use this information to differentiate it from another species. Observe the bird as it eats, drinks, flies and walks when it lands on the ground. Birds such as barn swallows, for example, drink while on the wing, dipping low over water and scooping it up with their bill. Each species or bird group has some behavior that sets it apart from others.
Step 6
Narrow down the possibilities by noting the habitat of the bird. Geographic range maps come in your field guide that show where a particular species lives. These guides further describe where the bird typically is found, such as in open fields, urban scenarios, woodlands or near water.
Step 7
Make a positive identification of a wild bird by its field marks. These marks include stripes, colors, spots and other distinctive features each species possesses. Match the specific marking on the various parts of the bird's anatomy to those in your guide for certain identification.

Tips & Warnings

A pair of binoculars and a note pad that allows you to write down what you see will certainly aid in identifying wild birds.

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