Bird ID photo

How To Better Identify Birds

If you watch birds, inevitably you will see varieties that you don’t recognize. To identify lesser-known species, practice answering the following questions, looking at a bird from the top down.

1. Silhouette

Look at the bird’s overall size, shape and posture. Is it the size of something familiar like a sparrow, robin, or crow? How does it sit, perch or fly?

2. Head Markings

Does the bird have a colorful or striped cap, also known as a crown? Is there a stripe above or through the eye, or does it have an eye ring or “spectacles?” Look for cheek patches or a mustache. Is there a white throat patch?

3. Body Markings

What are the overall back, breast and belly colors? What’s on the chest: a patch, spots, streaks or is it clear? Are the flanks (sides of body) clear or streaked? Is there a white or yellow rump patch?

4. Wing Markings

Are the wings a different color than the body? Are there wing bars or spots?

5. Tail Shape and Markings

Is the tail long or short compared to the body? Is it forked, squared, pointed or another shape? Are there certain colors or vertical or horizontal stripes?

Lastly, pay attention to the bird's behavior. Is it perched in a tree or is it on the ground? Is it alone or in a flock? Is it visiting a feeder and if so what is it eating? The habits of a bird can also be very useful for identification.