Categorize the bird – there are many different categories of birds. One of the first things you should do is learn these categories and peruse the birds in them. No need to memorize these right now. But, as soon as you see it, try to put the bird into one of the following categories:
- Heron-like birds
- Swans, geese, ducks and duck-like birds
- Hawk-like birds
- Chicken-like birds
- Marsh birds
- Gull-like birds
- Shorebirds and small waders
- Pigeon-like birds
- Owls and other nocturnal birds
- Jays and crows
- Shrikes and vireos
- Chickadees, nuthatches, wrens
- Thrushes, mimics
- Tanagers, grosbeaks, buntings
- Blackbirds, Orioles
Size – How big or small is the bird? You can use size relativity to get a general idea. Size relativity refers to being bigger or smaller than a sparrow, robin, crow or pigeon.
Study silhouettes – this is an important part of identification because most times, when a bird is flying, you can’t see all field marks. So pay attention to body, beak, tail and legs. Then ask yourself:
- Is the body short or long? Narrow or plump?
- Is its beak fine, long, or short and stout (insect or seed eater)? Is it dagger-shaped, hooked or straight
- Are its legs short or long? What color are the legs?
- Do the wings look rounded or pointed?
- Do the wings have wing bars? Are they single, double, bold or obscure?
- Is the tail notched or straight across?
What is the bird’s behavior? Different birds have different behaviors. For example:
|an Eastern Phoebe repeatedly bobs it tail,|
|Brown Creeper hitches itself up a tree,|
move down a tree,
|the American Dipper does somersaults in flowing water|
|Cape May Warbler|
Do not depend on color!! Birds have different plumages at different stages of life, different times of the year and multiple birds have the same color. Use color as your LAST RESORT. Here are two DIFFERENT birds.
|Male House Finch|
|Male Purple Finch|
|Female Pine Siskin|
|Female House Finch|
Use a field guide – All the information you need about a particular bird is in one place. You can use a hard copy or there are some new electronic guides available for your iPhone or iPad. Field guides have the categories that birds are in and they separate them by family. Juvenile and adult, male and female photos in field guides are a tremendous help.
Oh, and get a good set of binoculars. With a field guide and binos you are all ready to bird and start your life list!!