You are feeding birds on a backyard feeder, and suddenly you notice that a new guest bird has come into your yard. But, you are not familiar with this bird and do not know how to identify it.
The scenario is so common for most people. If you frequently fall into such a situation, the article is for you. I will help you to learn the skill of bird identification.
How to identify a bird?
You can use Merlin Bird ID by Cornell Lab app to identify a bird without knowing any technical thing. You need to capture the photo or sound and place it on the app. In a few seconds, you will get details of the bird.
However, if you want to be an expert in identifying birds, then you can follow the below steps to learn in-depth about how to identify a bird.
You will get around 2,059 bird species in North America only. So, it will be quite hard for you to know about every bird species. You can easily narrow down the list by learning about different bird groups.
Each group has common characteristics. If you want to master identification, you need to have a good idea about the bird’s four characteristics. Those are the shape and size of the bird, its overall color pattern, its behavior, and its habitat. I will provide you with some tips to master those in the section below.
However, you will make many mistakes initially, but day by day, practice will make you perfect for this task. The easiest way to learn about different bird groups is to use a field guidebook.
You can take down the below note when you notice a mysterious bird, find out its group, and then the birds easily. Plus, grab a bird identification book ( Amazon Link) to know more details about birds.
Shape and size
When anyone starts learning bird identification, they focus on plumage and field marks, where shape and size should be the first priority. Why? Let me answer. You are not aware of how variable plumages can be until you start birding, especially as they change from season to season.
So, try to identify how we use our brain to identify things around us. Just think that when we first met someone how we can remember them. Obviously, according to their overall appearance, build, and height rather than their eye color or hairstyle.
Follow the same thing when you are trying to identify a bird. You can compare the bird with your other known birds, which is the key to learning bird identification.
For example, when you first watch an American robin, try to guess their group or family. The next thing you should do is a size comparison. Here an American robin is larger than a sparrow but smaller than a crow.
The birder’s interest grows to learn more about birds due to their color. While the terms bird identification appears, you need to be familiar with color patterns.
However, birders get frustrated when they try to match the bird with field guides as field guides provide the accurate image of the birds where this aspect will be missing when you watch them in the field.
If you rely on subtle plumage details, then the only thing you will get is frustration. So, ignore the subtleties and look at the overall color pattern.
You can start with how color is arranged on the bird’s body. For example, if you see a Pileated Woodpecker, start with their overall color appearance mixed with overwhelmingly white and black. But, it will be perfect if you can describe the pattern of the color of the bird’s body. For our example, Pileated Woodpecker comes with a black body and a red crest with white wings.
If you provide a close look, you will also notice detailed color patterns like the bird’s neck form with black and white patterns.
Behavior is a critical component when talking about bird identification. You can focus on the bird’s posture, foraging, and flying style for identification purposes.
By asking two simple questions: where and how you can break down the posture. Where is easy to find as most species prefer certain places over others. After you get the answer where you need to focus on how the bird is standing or perching.
The same thing applies to foraging. First, you need to ask a simple question: where do the birds forage. For example, ducks always forage on the water while stalking prey in the shallows. After that, the question will arrive at how the bird forages? The piping plover, for example, dashes around and stops on the surface to pick up food from the surface, whereas the Brown Creeper gets its nourishment from underneath the tree bark. Then, lookout what they are eating.
Now, the final step is to learn about bird flying styles. Your first observation should be wing beats and the direction of flights. For example, ducks are recognizable for their wickedly fast wing beats.
Habitats contain everything that birds need to eat, reproduce, protect themselves, and generally survive. Understanding and reading habitats is a key point to becoming a perfect birder. You need to learn different types of habitats where birds live.
Generally, it breaks down into four general categories: woodland or forested, water or aquatic, scrub-shrub, and open habitats. For this, you need to identify what type of habitat area you are located in and which birds you can find in those places. It will narrow down the birds, easily identifying the birds.
If you want to learn bird identification, you should keep patient. It will take time, and day by day will be perfect regarding the task. Plus, our above guide and the reference videos will help you know more about bird identification.