10 Tips for Easy Bird Identification

Escrito em 12 de agosto de 2021

10 Tips for Easy Bird Identification

This article aims to guide you on the main aspects of obtaining an accurate bird identification. Therefore, here are our ten tips you can follow or consider before identifying a bird species. 


1. Focus only on the bird!

Whenever you see a bird, make sure you spend as much time as possible looking at it and not at the field guide trying to figure out what species it is. The more you look at the bird, the more likely you are to remember more details that you can check out later in the field guide.

As Roger Tory Peterson once said, “Birds have wings and tend to use them.” 


2. Follow a rule to look at the bird.

Adopt a specific order to observe a bird, no matter what rule you create for yourself or decide to follow. This technique will allow you to save time deciding where you should start looking. Of course, parts of the bird are not visible in some cases, so in those circumstances, you just skip those parts and continue to the next one(s) on your order. 

3. Size helps, but…

The next step you can focus on is the size of the bird. The size references of common species can be very useful to guide you on your identification. But, be careful. The size sometimes tricks you. Or better said, the circumstances you see a bird or its characteristics may mislead you to wrong identification. Some examples are dark coloured birds, birds seen in the shade, or birds seen at a distance with heatwaves in-between. 

4. Shapes can be more reliable.

To overcome the problem of sizes, you may turn your attention to the shapes of the bird you are seeing. Either seeing a bird flying or perched, the forms usually are more reliable than the size. Here, we don’t mean only the bird’s silhouette, but the shapes of its parts too. For instance, the shape of the head, bill or tail can say a lot about bird identification. 


 A little owl on top of a old roof from the behind.


5. Now, colours!

The tendency of a birdwatcher beginner is usually to focus mainly on the colours. Maybe because it is a more catchy feature, which may persuade them to look at the colourful birds and neglect the others, even if unconsciously. Moreover, like sizes, colours can be misleading, depending on the circumstances you are observing the bird. So, colours are indeed essential to guide you on accurate identification, however, it is just another part of the puzzle. 

6. Behaviour 

Birds use behaviour mainly for the same reasons as any other animal, i.e. food and reproduction. Yet, every species does that differently. So, be aware of the movements you are witnessing and write them down. Then, as your knowledge grows, you will be able to identify species by their habits and behaviour, which will be very useful when you see a bird for scarce seconds. 


 An egyptian nightjar on a sandy ground between some rocks.


7. Learn some sounds and use mnemonics

The sound is usually the first clue on a bird’s presence and is particularly important in songbirds identification. However, this skill requires time and lots of practice. But why not starting right away by exercising your brain with common species? To make it easier, you can use mnemonics or phrases to help you remember a bird’s sounds or even its name. The use of mnemonics challenges your creativity and can be fun!


8. “Birding by habitat”

British birdwatchers included this birding term a long ago, which refers to the anticipation of what bird species you are likely to see in a given location. So, if you consider a place you often visit, you can predict some of the species you will encounter there just by knowing its features and/or habitats. To help you even more, you can also consider the season. This technique will help you improve your knowledge of bird ranges, habitats and preferences. 

9. Essential gear helps

A good pair of binoculars and a good field guide are pretty much the essential equipment you need to have. So, the better they are, the more accessible and accurate identification you get.

Excellent binoculars are widely available, so just buy the best you can afford. The same with the guides. There are quite a variety of books to choose from, and you should just look for that one that suits you better. The most important thing concerning the field guide is that you always carry it with you. 


Bird guide, B Journal and a pair of binoculars on the ground.


10. Practice and take notes

Like everything you do, practice helps you to improve your skills. So, practice birding whenever and wherever you can. 

Furthermore, take notes of your observations, and they will help you on every aspect mentioned in the points above. If you want to know how to keep your field notebook, check our previous article here.

Finally, one last tip that will help you improve is birding with others. Take every opportunity to go out with other birders and learn and share from one another. 


 A Birdwatching Journal on top of an opened bird guide.

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