Bird watching involves identifying birds by their physical attributes as well as by their behavior. There are 9 points that can be used when identifying bird species – size, color, shape, bill (shape and color), leg (length and color), eye color, flight pattern, habitat and distribution. It is best to use a field guide for your area, for example a field guide on identifying British birds if you are in Britain, as these will contain the species for your area. The secret to bird identification is to recognize which family the bird belongs to. From there, finding the exact species is matter of elimination.
Let us take the example of identifying birds of prey. If you saw a large raptor with legs feathered to the feet, large powerful talons, you would know that it is a true eagle. To identify the exact species you would consider habitat, size and coloration. Another example of identifying birds of prey is: If you saw a small raptor with pointed wings, a long narrow tail, facial markings like “sideburns”, direct flight with rapid wing beats and hunting on the wing, you would know it belongs to the falcon family. By process of elimination you would identify the exact species of falcon.
When identifying backyard birds, consider the above points and pay particular attention to distribution. Distribution is an accurate and great help in identifying a bird. If a bird is noted as not being found in your area, chances are it’s a different species that you have spotted. Identifying garden birds can be difficult and may require the use of binoculars to note leg and bill color. However, starting with identifying backyard birds is the perfect way to begin birding.
Another useful way to determine bird species is by identifying bird song. Many CDs are available to assist in identifying bird song. Bird song is very species specific and leaves you with little doubt as to the bird you are listening to.
Once you have started to identify birds using the above tips, you will understand the delight that many bird watchers experience in observing these feathered wonders.