Questions and Tips to Consider for Bird Identification

Morphology (Image of parts of bird, field marks)
Habitat (e.g. Tundra, Chaparral, Sagebrush, Marshy, etc)
Time of year (Season)

Questions to consider:
What is the bird's general shape?
What is the dominant color of the bird?
Does the bird have identifiable field marks such as wing bars, head tuft, eye-ring, etc.?
What is the shape or type of the beak?
What is the color of the beak?
What color are the eyes?
What is the approximate size of the bird?
Is the bird found in a particular habitat?
Is the bird found during a particular season?
Is the bird found at a particular geographic area?
Is the bird an adult or a juvenile?

Questions for a bird not keying out:
Is the bird molting?
Is the bird a juvenile?
Is the bird a stray migrant?
Is the bird a hybrid between species?
Is the bird in a different plumage (i.e. breeding vs winter plumage)?
Is the bird a male or female (birds often exhibit sexual dimorphism)?

Further Reading:
The Audubon Field Guide to North American Birds
Peterson Field Guides Advanced Birding
A Birder's Guide to Idaho
Kenn Kaufman's Focus Guide to Birds
National Geographic's Birder's Journal
Stoke's Field Guide to Birds (Western Region)
The Complete Birder
National Geographic Field Guide to the Birds of North America

Since birds are not usually in hand when identifying, our identification key are based on visual cues. Often birds are seen with binoculars or with the naked eye, and only a fleeting glimpse is available. Using this key will give you some practice in using visual cues to identify birds, but may give a false sense of security in the ability to identify birds.


Page by Ean Harker & Mike Legler ©2001.