How to Identify Birds

Paying attention to the various characteristics of birds can help you identify them. You can identify birds by noting their shape, posture, size, way of flying etc. Begin by learning the different species of birds and familiarize yourself with their different characteristics [source: Cornell University]. Getting to know the parts of a bird is invaluable when it comes to identifying birds. You surely know what the legs, head, bill, breast, wings and tail look like, but that's not enough to identify a bird. Birds have unique characteristics, which are called field marks. We will now discuss those field marks.

  • Size A bird's size refers to its measurement from bill-tip to the end of the tail. Compare the size of one bird to the size of another.
  • Shape Comparing shapes is a very useful tool when identifying birds. Is the body thin or fat? What kind of tail does it have?
  • Habitat Most birds prefer to have their own unique habitat for feeding or nesting. Noting where you see the bird in the habitat will also help identify it. Is it on the ground or high in a tree?
  • Behavior When you're watching a bird, take note of its actions. How does the bird feed? Does it catch insects while in flight, or does it feed on the ground?
  • Voice (Sounds) A bird's voice can help identify it. This is especially true of songbirds. Birds use song to attract a mate, declare a territory and to make contact with each other.
  • Colors and Patterns Colors are probably the most noticeable field marks for birds. It's important to note where these colors are located. Many birds have a colored head, throat, breast, or rump and these colors can create distinct patterns such as streaks or spots.
  • Wings Birds' wings are a collection of several different types of feathers.
  • Tail A bird's tail is comprised of long feathers extending from the rear of the bird.
  • Bills and Beaks Bills and beaks come in a variety of shapes and sizes, with each design being adapted for a specific method of feeding [source: Allen, Elmore].