Are you an expert in wild bird identification? No, well neither am I.
I enjoy taking birding trips, seeing new wild birds and practicing my wild bird identification skills. Bird watching for me, is all about the thrill of the hunt - the hunt for wild birds that I have never seen before.
If you are new to bird watching, the best place to start identifying wild birds is right in your own backyard at your bird feeders. I would guess that you know what an American Robin looks like or perhaps a Blue Jay. You probably learned the names of those birds and others by seeing them often. Knowing the names of a few birds is a great start. You now have reference points that will help you when you see less common wild birds.
Why is wild bird identification important?
Identifying the wild birds in your backyard will make it easier to learn about them from field guides or other reference books. It will also be helpful if you are keeping a list of wild birds that you see or if you are participating in the Christmas Bird Count, the Great Backyard Bird Count or a local bird count. You may also want to brag to your birding friends about seeing a rare bird for your area, such as the Northern Shrike (the latest addition to my life list).
Knowing the names of the wild birds visiting your feeders will help you learn more about them. You will be able to research what they eat, their mating habits, migration patterns and more. This will make it possible for you to attract even more wild birds into your yard.
There are a few things you will need for wild bird identification: a good field guide, a pair of binoculars for birding and a notepad and pencil. In the beginning you may find that a camera is helpful, but it is not necessary. There is even birding software available, which can be very helpful.
Wild bird identification will be easier if you follow a process. The first thing you must do is become comfortable with how your field guide works. It will normally categorize birds by habitat, feeding habits or size. No two birding field guides are the same. Practice in your backyard with birds that you are familiar with. How fast can you find a cardinal or a chickadee in your field guide?
When you see an unfamiliar bird you may only have a few seconds to identify it, so what are you looking for?
When looking at a bird what do you see? Legs, wings, a bill, the shape of the tail, these are all important. But what about the eye-ring, the secondaries, or the median line? As you can see below, there are many parts to a wild bird. They are not always important for wild bird identification. But if you see that the bird you are trying to identify has a white median line, you should write it down.
Take some notes or even make a quick sketch, but here is what you need to know:
You will have no trouble identifying a wild bird if you answer these questions. I can not stress enough the need to make notes. You may see 10 or more birds that are unfamiliar to you in one outing. If you do not write down notes, chances are you will have difficulty remembering what you saw.
One last wild bird identification tip, listen. On any birding trip you are likely to hear more wild birds than you see. Use the sounds of the wild birds as an invitation to find them. Become familiar with their calls by listening to one of the many CDs available on the market. If you hear the drumming of a Ruffed Grouse, you will know to look low to the ground. But if you hear the wail of a Common Loon, then you know that there is a lake nearby So if you are not seeing many birds, stop and listen, you may be surprised at what you hear.
As I said before, your backyard is the best place to practice wild bird identification. Once you feel ready, find a birding hotspot near you and start working on that life list.
Ask away! For bird identification, if possible, upload a photo of the bird, and our audience of readers will help identify it! The maximum image size accepted is 800x600. You will need to resize any photo larger than 800x600 pixels using your graphics software or a free Web-based resizer, such as Pic Monkey.
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