Most people have little trouble recognizing a variety of common birds like Cardinals, Blue Jays, Crows, or American Robins. But you happen to be out in your yard or on a walk and you see a bird that you don’t recognize. Curiosity is the first step in identifying a bird. You want to know the name the name of that bird you are looking at. With more than 9,000 bird species on the North American checklist of birds you may think it’s to over-whelming to identify a specific bird species. But actually it is easier than you think. Here are some simple steps that will help you make that identification.
1. Size is important. Is it sparrow size or smaller, robin size, crow size, or larger such as a vulture. Estimating the size of the bird you see will reduce the category of possible birds.
2. Color is another attribute that will help with identification. Is the bird red, orange, blue, black, yellow, brown, grey, or a combination of several colors? Look at the primary color and location of secondary colors. Example: Grey bird robin size. Black crown on head with red patch under the tail. Answer: Grey Catbird.
3. Look at the details of the bird referred to as “field marks”. Does the bird have wing bars, eye-ring around eye, eyebrow above or line through eye? Is the crown a colored cap or striped? Is the body a solid color or does it have stripes or speckled body parts? The beak is important as well. Does it have a thick beak for cracking seeds, small pointed beak for collecting insects, long beak for piecing prey or hooked beak for tearing prey?
4. Identify the habitat where you see the mystery bird. Are you in your backyard, in woodlands or at woodland edges, in wetlands, prairie, or looking out on open water? This will greatly limit the selection of bird species to choose from. Just as a Meadowlark will not be seen in woodlands, a nuthatch will not be found in a prairie. Habitat is key.
Another key factor is time of year. Bird species will vary with the seasons, spring, summer, winter and fall. This is a good indicator about what birds one should be seeing at any given time.