Bird Identification

….Compliments of Wild Birds Forever

We’ve had many requests to help identify backyard birds. We thought we’d share some tips with you to make bird identification easier. There are several things to consider when watching and identifying your backyard birds. First, you need a good field guide. Second, a good pair of binoculars or a spotting scope will bring your backyard birds up close and in focus. And thirdly, follow our pointers below on how to identify a new bird.


Having a good field guide handy is one of the most important steps in identifying your backyard birds. We recommend the following field guides:The Stokes Field Guides, The Peterson Field Guides, and The National Geographic Society Field Guide to the Birds of North America. Leaf through your field guides often to become familiar with the wonderful variety of birds that inhabit our continent.


A good pair of binoculars or spotting scope is essential equipment for the backyard birder. We offer advice on how to select binoculars.


More than 800 species of birds breed in North America. This can be daunting to the birdwatcher who wants to identify a newcomer at the backyard feeding station. The challenge lies not only in seeing the bird, but also accurately identifying them. The following guidelines can help you narrow down the search in your field guide as a new visitor parks on your feeding station. Look for the following identifying characteristics of the bird you want to identify.

SIZE: First, ask yourself “how big is the bird?” The easiest way to do this is to compare it to another well known bird. Is it as big as a robin or as small as a goldfinch? Is the bird fat or skinny, long or short? This is an important first step to identifying the bird.

COLOR & MARKINGS: Observe the overall color and appearance of the bird. Is it mostly blue or red for example. Next, identify unique field marks such as a black head, white stripes on the wing bars, yellow belly or white spots.

SHAPE & SIZE OF BEAK: Notice the shape and size of the beak. Is it short and stocky like that of a seed eating bird? Or is it long and slender like an insect eating bird. The beak is an important clue to the family and type of bird you’re trying to identify.

FAMILY & BEHAVIOR: Ornithologists organize birds into family groups that share certain structural characteristics. Identifying family resemblances is often helpful in identifying birds in the field. A good example is the Picidae family which are quickly recognized as the woodpeckers. This would narrow your search from 800 down to 22.

Behavioral traits also provide some good clues. Is it a perching bird? Is it visiting your bird feeder? Or is it foraging on the ground? Is it a water bird? Or is it a hummingbird? This general classification step will make identifying the bird in your field guide easier.

BIRD SONG OR CALL: We often hear a bird before we see it. Learning to identify the specific song or calls of birds will enable you to become a better birder and easily recognize birds. Learning the sounds of birds may well become as essential to you as your field guide and binoculars. Many of the field guides we sell have information about bird songs as well, or check out the Stokes or Peterson Birding by Ear Series to learn bird songs. Next time you are out taking a walk, stop and LISTEN! A bird’s song can tell you to start looking for it!

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