Having trouble identifying birds?

Sometimes I get questions from readers about identifying the birds they are seeing.

All birders have this problem in varying degrees. Here is a comment posted yesterday about this very issue:

I’m still very new to trying to ID birds, and while I pick out the most distinctive features to keep to memory, often my bird book still doesn’t include the bird I see, or the picture isn’t quite right. Sometimes I remember to take the camera with me, and this helps plenty with identifying the birds later. While I enjoy just watching birds, I have this need to know what they are called. It’s all fun!

If you are having trouble getting the ID of birds rights DON’T PANIC!

You are in very good company. Even the most experienced birders have trouble – or get it wrong. A photo can help but sometimes just confuses the issue further.

A standing “joke” amongst birders is identifying those infuriatingly difficult LBBs – “Little Brown Birds.” They can all look the same.

Some general hints to help narrow the possibilities:

1. Size: compare the unknown bird with something you know – is it the size of a wren or a magpie or a duck?

2. Shape: Many species have a distinctive shape eg most honeyeaters are similar but are not the same as the shape of a duck, a hawk or and emu.

3. Behaviour: some only feed on the ground, some in water, others in the foliage. Knowing the  preferences of each species will help.

4. Habitat: Study the preferences of each species as detailed in the  field guides. Mallee birds are generally not found on the beach, water birds usually are near water etc

5. Distribution: Study the field guides and memorize the normal distribution of each species. You won’t see a Cassowary in a private garden in Adelaide  (if you do – PHONE ME IMMEDIATELY LOL). Be aware that the birds haven’t read the field guides and are sometimes a long way from where they are “supposed” to be. This makes the hobby so interesting – odd things pop up in unexpected places from time to time.

These 5 steps will help you to narrow the list of possible species to perhaps half a dozen – hopefully less. Identifying a bird is often just a series of eliminations.

If you dip out and can’t ID something, it’s not the end of the world. Remember: the bird knows what it is.

Above all: Have fun.