Distinguishable Features and Characteristics Aids Bird Identification

Red and Blue Lory Flying

Bird identification is one of the main goals of bird watching. The process of recognizing birds from their size, shape, color, sound, behavior, posture, flight pattern, habitat and other distinguishable features and characteristics is known as bird identification.

When a birder watches a bird in the wild he/she notes down its key features otherwise known as ‘field marks’ on a notepad. Sometimes they take pictures and videos. They typically note down the size, shape, plumage, bill structure and actions. This information is vital for identifying the species. The information is matched with previously collected information about different species which results in identification of the bird species.

Identification from appearance:

The structural features of body parts, especially the head, and the size of the body provides valuable information for identification. Some features such as the length of the leg, number of toes, size and shape of wings, weight, height and width measurements have some useful information to compare between species and identifying them. Many species can be recognized from the size, shape, pattern and color of their plumage. But in the wild it gets tough to identify a species just from the plumage because distance, lighting, individual variation or damage by staining, compromises its recognizability. The key to identification is observing closely. A birder has to try and observe every little detail about a bird’s size, shape, color, plumage and other physical characteristics whilst the bird is still.

Identification from action:

Actions vary among species and experienced watchers can identify different species from their actions. For example, A Wilson’s Phalarope which is a shorebird can be identified from its habit of racing around violently after flying insects. Postures are also a distinguishable action. Different species have distinctive postures while feeding and resting. Take the example of Broad-tailed Hummingbirds. They often roost in a less straight position than Rufous Hummingbirds. A change in posture can seem confusing to a watcher.

Identification from flight:

It can be difficult to identify a flying bird while observing from a distance. Identifying slow flying birds is relatively easy but it’s quite hard to identify the birds that fly fast. Some species of warbler and the sparrow fly so fast that they have never been photographed well while flying.
Once the physical characteristics and actions of a species are known a bird watcher concentrates on identifying its flying pattern. Studying flying patterns include observing the shape of the flight path, shape of wingspan and the prominent features of plumage that can be seen from a distance. Some flying patterns are easy to identify. For instance a dirk and large bird can be identified from a distance to be a raven instead of a crow. It takes time and patience to be able to identify species from flight. It is a matter of experience. The more you observe the more you’ll learn about their flight.

Identification from sounds:

Painted Bunting

Birds make different vocal noises. These noises fall under two categ

ories- song and call. These sounds differ from species to species. So it is relatively easy to identify them from the sounds they make. They also make sounds by batting their wings and their tail feathers and the bill, especially when courting.

• Songs:

Male members use songs to attract females for mating and declaring territories. Songs are often long and repetitive and followed by an aerial display. Some species sing only while flying. Among some species, songs can vary in sound due to individuality or region. Some species can sing a range of completely different songs. For example: Thrashers can sing over 100 different types of song.

• Calls:

Calls are short sounds made for communication. All types of birds have different calls for conveying different messages, sometimes calls are very distinctive which leads to instant identification of the species but they can be similar to calls made by other species too.
Bird watchers record the songs and calls of different species to master identification.

Identification from habitat:

Birds are very choosy when it comes to their habitat. So they can be identified from the trees, forest and region they are seen. For example you can identify the variety of sparrow by observing if it lives in an old field, mixed forest or desert.


One Response to Bird Identification

  • Tommy Nuttycombe says:

    I am very familiar with the birds in my area, migratory and otherwise. I have two predominately brown birds with a slight yellow breast. They have bug eater type beaks and are smaller than a robin
    and are showing interest in an old bird house that is on a pine tree in my yard which has had the whole enlarged by a squirrel to stash it’s babies. They have a thrush or wren type tail. I live in Chesapeake VA which is in eastern coastal VA and near the North Carolina border. I have been unable to get a picture of them. Both male and female look alike. They do not come to my feeders and I have never seen them here before.

    Any ideas?

    Tommy Nuttycombe

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