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Image by Bryan Hanson


Got questions about birding? Find quick answers and handy tips in our FAQ section. Start your journey into the world of birding with confidence! 🦜🔍🌿

What is “Birding”? Is there a difference between birdwatching and birding?

Birding, in concept, is the pursuit of birdlife in particular, whether for life listing or just for the enjoyment of finding different species! While birdwatching and birding are essentially the same thing (some might say that birdwatching is more lax), all bird enthusiasts are united in a common interest in avian wildlife. 

Australian Ostrich
A bird with red head and black crest

An interest in wildlife and birds in particular serves most directly to help create awareness in the wildlife we share our planet with. Birds, being found in virtually every corner of the planet, are easily accessible and readily found, from the densest cities to mountaintops and even the middle of the ocean. Learning more about these incredible animals helps create awareness and, by extension, allows anyone to get involved through engagement, whether with citizen science projects or local organizations (e.g. Audubon chapters, eBird, state conservation organizations).

Why is birding significant?

Some of our most commonly seen species are those that readily present themselves, whether at forest edges or in parks and backyards. These common and well-known birds--such as Blue Jays, Northern Cardinals, House Sparrows, etc.--are easy to identify because of their familiarity, with colors, patterns, or shapes that are familiar to many. The vast majority of the lesser-known birds, however, can be tricky to identify, usually due to similar pattern, shape, or color to other species. When identifying a bird, begin with the basics: 

  • Location/habitat

  • Shape/size

  • Behavior

  • Sound

  • Color/pattern

How do you identify different bird species?

White Swans
Red Ibis

What does the bird look like? Shape, size, and general features are crucial in narrowing down what you’re looking at to family and genus, so look for: 

  • Posture (upright, long/short legs)

  • Bill shape (decurved, recurved, long, short, blunt, thick, fine)

  • Size (useful to compare to other birds, like sparrow-sized, hawk-sized, duck-sized, etc.)

How do you I.D. birds by shape and size?

Where did you find the bird? Habitat preference can be a key factor in identifying a species. While there are different types of niches that some birds fill (generalist v.s. specialist), habitat requirements are NOT entirely concrete, but a trend or preference. It may be helpful to familiarize yourself with your local climate, and habitat types. Some examples of general habitats include coastal, deciduous forest, coniferous forest, suburban, urban, and grassland.

  • What habitat was the bird in?

  • Was the bird in the trees? On the ground? In bushes or on a fencepost?

  • If applicable, what elevation was the bird at? (In some areas, elevation-related range restriction is common, like in the tropics)

How do you I.D. birds by location and habitat?

Raven Crow

What color(s) was the bird? Was there a specific pattern or feature that stood out? Many species’ common names reflect significant features/patterns, such as the Yellow-rumped Warbler which, unsurprisingly, has a diagnostic yellow rump. Some pattern and color types are reflected in descriptive adjectives or common names as well (spectacled, __ throated, __ winged, etc.)

  • Color or colors, and where (ex. Are the head or wings a different color than the breast or undersides?)

  • Bill color (unicolored, bicolored, tipped, base color, upper and lower mandible different)

  • Leg or eye color

  • Patterns (ex. Are there wingbars? Does the bird have a cap or hood? Any spotting, streaking, or plainness?)

How do you I.D. birds by color and pattern?

What is the bird doing? Sometimes, behavior can be a huge help in identifying a species that might be similar-looking to others.


  • Feeding style (sallying/flycatching, on the ground, etc.)

  • Activity (active/fluttering, soaring, perched still, climbing/creeping, swimming, etc.)

  • Any tail flicking, swishing, pumping, bobbing, etc.

How do you I.D. birds by behavior?

Exotic Bird

What does the bird sound like? Vocal identification, with practice, can be one of the most helpful factors in identification. Call and song types typically are exclusive to one species or family, and in some cases (Empidonax sp.) can be the only way to safely identify to species. While song can vary geographically--and with melody being more on a case-by-case basis--tone quality and rhythm can be helpful. 

  • Call type: many field guides may use onomatopoeia to describe call type/quality, such as chit, pip, etc.

  • Tone quality (sweet, high-pitched, hooting/low, mournful, whistled, dry, rattling).

  • Melody/song and common name: some birds are named after the sound they make, such as the Song Sparrow, Eastern Phoebe, Eastern Whip-poor-will, Chuck-wills-widow, Mourning Dove, etc

How do you I.D. birds by sound?

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