Learn Key Features
Birds are very active, so observation time can be brief. In order to look up the bird later in a field guide, the observer must try to quickly note features while the bird is in view.
Features that are especially helpful when trying to tell similar species apart:
- Wing bars
- Breast markings
- Tail spots
- Bill color
- Leg color
The diagram to the right highlights these and other important features that can help you tell birds apart.
Every bird species exhibits its own identification clues, including size and shape, color and field marks, songs and calls, behavior traits, and habitats where they are most likely to be found. Some species can be identified from just a few clues, while others require careful observation of every detail and trait.
Knowing what to expect when
One of the clues to identifying birds is to know what to expect seasonally. For example, the chipping sparrow and the American tree sparrow look similar. Both have wing bars, eye-lines and plain breasts. The chipping sparrow, however, is a summer resident while the American tree sparrow occurs in Missouri only in winter.
Knowing what to expect where
Each species of bird is associated with a particular habitat or habitats. Habitats usually have certain vegetative or landform characteristics that provide the species food and shelter. Knowing the habitat associations of a species enables you to know where to look for it.
Generally, the more habitats you visit, the more kinds of birds you will see. An understanding of habitat associations also will enable you to know what to expect where, and can, therefore, be used to identify birds.
For example, although the upland sandpiper and greater yellowlegs are somewhat similar in appearance, the upland sandpiper is found on grasslands, while the yellowlegs is usually found along shorelines when in Missouri.