Identifying Birds

Backyard feeders are often the first introduction to bird identification.  Most everyone can identify a chickadee and a robin but many birds are much more difficult.

Identifying birds takes practice and by getting to know a few birds well, it becomes easier to identify new species as they are observed.  A good exercise for beginners is to sit near a window or outdoors in one spot every day.  Hang out a bird feeder and scatter some seed on the ground to help you to learn the different habits of each species and have ample time for observations.

In winter, a White-Breasted Nuthatch will display its acrobatic antics while it hangs on the feeder upside down while a close up view of the Tree Sparrow reveals the markings and bill that define it from other sparrows.

A good way to begin observations is to group birds based on habits like the acrobatic nuthatch and general characteristics such as ducks or hawks.  Next, getting to know the habitat preferences of individual species helps to narrow the possible choices of what it might be.  A hawk hovering over an open field will most likely be either a harrier or a kestrel depending on is size, kingfishers also hover, but over water.  Likewise, a duck along the rocky coastline most likely would be a diving duck rather than a dabbling duck found along the edges of a small pond or stream.

Below is a list of Characteristics and click here for an excellent online resource that includes vocalization …..

Overall Size and Shape of the bird, small and plump or large and slender?

Shape of the wings, rounded or pointed?

Shape of the bill, thin, thick, long or curved?

Shape of the tail, square, rounded, pointed, straight, forked or notched?

What is the behavior? Tail up or down, does it flick the tail or use it as a brace?

Does it cling to trees?

Does it perch on branches?

How does it fly?  Steady wing beats, glide, soar or hover?  What is the pattern of it’s flight?

Describe how it swims or wades?

How do you describe the markings on the bird?

Overall color

Tail pattern, white on outer edges or across the tip of the tail

Unusual rump or head patches of color?

Eye rings or stripes that are above, through or below the eyes?

Wing bars of white?

Wing patterns when the bird flies, stripes or solid patches of color?

As you learn the birds, it is fun to keep a life list of birds you have seen.  The Stanton Bird Club has an extensive Checklist of Birds found here…..