3 min read
male cardinal, birding, bird identification

Birdwatching hasn’t always been a popular pastime. In the late 1800s most people were not interested in birding. Early ornithologists and naturalists were, but it was rare to find anyone outside these disciplines that were interested in birdwatching. By the 1900s birdwatching clubs began to form in larger cities and this pastime has continued to grow in popularity since. It is popular for several reasons, one of which is that it is easy and requires very little investment on the part of the bird watcher. individuals can begin this hobby with as little as a good pair of binoculars, and a field guide or online app. Birdwatching can begin in the backyard and eventually move to more interesting or challenging places like wooded lots, open pasture lands and even popular birding destinations like Dauphin Island.

Size and Shape

The most difficult part of birding is determining which species of bird is being observed. The first thing to look at is the size and shape of the bird. This will help to place it into one of the major categories used by biologists, birders, and field guides. The size and shape can help birders decide if the bird is a predator bird such as a hawk. Hawks are larger and have an athletic build. Their backs are strong and curved. Whereas an eastern bluebird is much smaller and has a more delicate build.

Learning the characteristics of the different categories commonly used will help birders to more easily compare different types of birds. Important characteristics to pay attention to are the length of the bill, tail and legs. Birds with shorter legs generally spend more time flying and less time on the ground. A purple martin is a good example of a bird that spends most of its time flying. Its legs are shorter and not designed to travel on ground for extended periods. Other birds have long bills that enable them to reach food that is located deep in flowers. Hummingbirds are a good example of a bird that has to reach deep into a flower to get nectar. A robin has a much shorter beak because it eats primarily insects, therefore it has no need to reach into the depths of a flower.

Color Pattern and Behavior

The color pattern of a bird can also be helpful while identifying its species. Pay attention to the location of light and dark regions as well as the overall color pattern. Sketching the bird or making note of the color patterns can often be the key to identifying the species.

It is also important to pay attention to the bird’s behavior. For example, does it walk on the ground or hop like a sparrow? Some birds soar when they fly, and others continuously flap their wings. Flight patterns can often help to identify the bird before it lands. Many smaller species like sparrows have what appears to be a bouncy flight pattern due to the constant flapping of their wings. However, some birds of prey like the red-tailed hawk often soars in circles. Look at the bird’s posture. Some have posture that is vertical to the branch while others have posture that is horizontal to the branch.


Knowing the habitat of different bird species can also be a crucial piece of the puzzle when it comes to bird identification. Many birds share geographical regions and similar traits but live in different habitats. For example both the wood thrush and brown thrasher have similar coloring and are generally the same size. But the wood thrush lives in forests with large trees and the brown thrasher prefers brushy areas like hedgerows. It’s also important to know which birds are migratory. These birds, whether traveling to Alabama from northern destinations or traveling to Central and South America from Alabama will only be in the region for a specific and limited amount of time each year.

Keeping notes about the size, coloring, behavior, and habitat of the birds you see in a journal is a great way to keep a catalog of the birds you’ve observed. It’s also helpful to include a sketch or photo and make a note of the date you saw the bird, so you will know what time of year to expect to see it. So, grab a journal and a pair of binoculars and head outside to see how many different species of birds you can find.

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