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Bird watching can be a fun and sometimes, challenging experience.

Seeing a bird is not necessarily enough to help you identify it.  With between 700 and 800 species in North America, you have your hands full!

So what can help you to figure out that bird?

Field marks are tremendously helpful to take notice of.  They are the key to the identification puzzle.  Field marks are those features of a bird that make it distinct from other birds.  Here are some of the common things to take note of:

- Notice the overall size and shape of a bird.  Is it the larger than a sparrow?  Smaller than a crow?  Is it plump and squat? Long and skinny?

- What shape and size is the bill?  Is it thick and triangular (cone) shaped?  Is it short and pointed?  is it long, thin and curved?  Is it hooked?

- What shape and length is the tail?

- What shape, size and length are the wings?

- Does it have a proportionally small, medium or large head?

- What markings and colors do you see on the birds head/neck? 

- What color is the birds chest/belly/vent (the vent is the undertail area)?

- What colors patterns do you see on the wings and tail?  Are there spots, splotches, bars or lines?

- What are the dominant colors on the birds body overall?

- Does the bird have any unique features? These might be like the curly tail of a male mallard, the iridescent patch on the neck of a domestic pigeon or the long,forked tail of a barn swallow.

Go out and try looking at these features.

Then come back and let us know what kinds of birds you observed.  You can also seek identification help here.:)

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Replies to This Discussion

Here is a common bird of grasslands, pastures and weedy fields. This one was photographed in a grassy patch of an urban park.


Try your hand at identifying this bird. Take a close look at the colors, patterns and habitat.

Song sparrow? Grey eyebrow, white breast with streaks, and shape of beak made me think so. I've been noticing that song sparrows seem to perch in prominent places, fence posts, tall plants, etc. when they alarm or sing.  


Alderleaf Wilderness College said:

Here is a common bird of grasslands, pastures and weedy fields. This one was photographed in a grassy patch of an urban park.


Try your hand at identifying this bird. Take a close look at the colors, patterns and habitat.

I'm off to revisit Bob Heirman Wildlife Preserve, this time with a pair of binoculars! Thanks for the tips about field marks for identifying birds.

Hope you had a good time in Bob H. !

The bird above is a Savannah Sparrow, a grassland/pasture species found in western WA mostly in the spring and summer. Song sparrows usually don't travel far from shrubby cover and woodland edge.  Open fields make them very nervous.

Actually similar to song sparrow in many ways.  Here are the things that are a bit different: straw yellow-tan color over most of its body.  Bright yellow mark over the eye brow region. Pale colored beak, and very clean white chest and belly.  The streaks on the body are very boldly dark (especially on the chest) vs. brown on the song sparrow.  Also, streaks on chest do not coalesce into central blob.

I was bird watching in TX and noticed a duck with a white ring around the bill - definitely seemed like the kind of feature that would distinguish this species.  I was able to look it up - a ring-necked duck!  Still don't understand why a bird with a ringed billl is called a ring-necked duck (since it doesn't have a ringed neck) but that proved to be the distinguishing feature.  I've found that with practice "unique" features jumps out at you better and better and it is almost always useful in identifying the bird.  

Connor,

You are voicing a complaint I have had for a long time with the ring-necked duck.  Indeed, the rings on the bill are much more dramatic and visible.  Common names can be deceptive, and sometimes, down right confusing!  This is why journaling species is an important part of what we teach.  When you learn to identify species using key features (field marks) then the world of nature around you becomes a little bit more manageable, and a little bit easier to recognize and distinguish.

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