One of the impressive skills of bird lovers is their ability to identify birds in a short glimpse. Yes, due to their passion for birding, the time they spent bird watching and their extra-effort to study about our feathered friends, identifying birds become a second nature to them. Every bird enthusiast exerts effort in studying the fowl, if you want to develop the same skills that is possible.
Identifying birds is tough at first, but it is feasible. If you are determined to get yourself familiar with the different species of birds in your backyard or outdoors, check out our tips and tricks for bird identifications.
When learning about birds, pay attention to their body shape, size, field mark and flight patterns.
Always remember that when it comes to birds, size matters. The length of a bird is typically measured as the body length from the crown to their feet or tip of the tail. The wingspan is another size measurement referring to the longest natural distance between the tips of a bird’s wings and how they would naturally spread. For most birds, wingspan will cross over the shoulders. However, for some species with long and forked wings, the wingspan is measured from tip to tip crossing lower over the body.
For example, you can use the size in identifying a Pileated from a Downy Woodpecker. The former is a crow-sized woodpecker while the latter has the size of a sparrow. You can also compare the birds with each other for identification. For example, a Cedar Waxwing is bigger than a sparrow, but smaller than a robin. Meanwhile, a Blue Jay is larger than a robin, but smaller than a crow.
- Body Shape
Body shape is a valuable reference for bird identification. So, observe their body shape, proportions of heads, legs, and wings, the shape of their tail and length of their bill. By considering this factor, you can even recognize birds by their silhouettes. Check out some of the tips below to identify a cardinal, crow and other variety of birds by just considering their body shape.
- Medium-sized finch-like songbird with long tail
- Strongly conical, seed-eating bill
- Crested head
- Large size
- Stout body, medium-length tail
- Heavy, strong bill
- Typical duck shape, with heavy body
- Short tail, held above water’s surface
- Horizontally flattened bill
- Plump body, with short legs and neck
- Small head
- Pointed wings
- Slight swelling at base of upper bill
- Small to medium size
- Conical, seed-eating bill
- Notched tail
- Slender body, long tail
- Strong, slightly curved bill
- Mid-sized crow-relative with long tail
- Some have crest on head
- Small bird of prey
- Typical streamlined falcon shape, with long pointed wings and long tail
- Short raptorial (sharply hooked) bill, feet with sharp talons
- Medium-sized perching bird with relatively large head
- Broadly-flattened, typical flycatcher bill
- Large head, often with shaggy crest
- Very short legs and tail
- Long, strong, pointed bill
- Chunky body, short tail
- Strong legs
- Straight, strong, pointed bill
- Long, slender body, long legs and tail
- Small, slender bill
- Small size, chunky body, short tail
- Straight, slightly upturned bill
- Strong legs and feet
- Clings to tree trunks, usually head downwards
- Small to medium-sized shorebird
- Relatively large head, short neck
- Short, rather thick bill, sometimes slightly swollen at tip
- Ground dwelling
- Chunky, rounded body, with short tail
- Small head, very short neck
- Ground dwelling
- Field Marks
Another easy way to identify a bird is through its field marks. Ornithologists divide a bird’s body into topographical regions including beak, head, back, wings, tail, and legs. To make bird identification even easier some are divided further.
Field marks of the head
You can identify a bird by following the field marks of the head, which are as follows:
- Eyebrow stripe (or superciliary line, above the eye)
- Eyeline (line through the eye)
- Crown stripe (stripe in the midline of the head)
- Eyering (ring of color around eye)
- Throat patch
- Color of the lore (area between base of beak and eye)
- Whisker mark (also called mustache or malar stripe)
- Color of upper and lower beak
- Presence or absence of crest
Field marks of the wing
When examining for field marks of the wings look for wing marking. The presence or absence of wing markings is a critical factor in distinguishing the bird’s character. To check the presence or absence of the wing markings, consider the following:
- Wing patches
- Flight Pattern
The way birds fly is another factor in identifying them. Observe their direction when they fly and how fast or slow they flap their wings. In most cases, bird groups have characteristic flight patterns that will help you in identifying them. For instance, birds of prey are identified in the way they hold their wings while flying towards you. Here’s a list of the common flight patterns you can use to identify birds.
For example, finches exhibit a steep, roller-coaster flight. On the other hand, woodpeckers fly with moderate rises and falls pattern.
Flapping Vs Gliding
Accipiter like Sharp-shinned Hawk, Cooper’s Hawks and Northern Goshawks usually make several wing flaps before gliding. On the other hand, buteos including the Red-tailed Hawk just soar.
Deliberate Flapping Vs Alternate Flapping
The way birds flap its wings is another indicator to identify them. For example, the American Crow flies with deliberate flapping wing beats. On the other hand, a common raven often alternates flapping with hawk-like soaring.
Wing Shape While Flying
Another key factor in identifying birds through their flight patterns is by observing the shape of their wings head-on. Soaring Turkey Vulture might appear like hawks, but their wings are in a shallow V-shape, whereas most hawks hold their wings out flat. So, consider this the next time you go birding.
Keep these tips in mind the next time you go bird watching and try it yourself with a binocular if you can identify the birds correctly. If you have more tips for bird identification, feel free to add and share it with us.