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If you love birding, then you know that identification is key. You can't hope to identify every bird you see without first learning the basics. This post will discuss the five basics of bird identification: size and shape, color pattern, behavior, habitat, and field marks. Once you understand these concepts, you'll be able to identify the birds of North America with ease!

Size & Shape

To begin bird identification, it is vital to understand the basics of size and shape. Different birds have different sizes and shapes. A hummingbird looks much different than an eagle! Additionally, when looking at a bird from far away or in between trees, the silhouette can tell you what type of bird it might be.

Color Pattern

The second aspect of bird identification is the color pattern. This can vary dramatically depending on the species and individual bird. There can even be variations in coloration within the same species, depending on the sex of the bird. Each species has its own unique combination of colors which allows us to differentiate them from other birds.


Behavior is another critical factor that should be taken into consideration when identifying birds. Many times, the behavior will provide key clues to help you determine what type of bird it is.

For example, if you’re looking at a brown and black medium-sized, dove-shaped bird with a long tail that flies swiftly and snatches prey from the ground, then it is likely an American Kestrel.


This might seem like a no-brainer, but habitat also plays an essential role in identifying birds. Different species of birds are known to thrive in diverse ecosystems.

A Pileated Woodpecker, for instance, prefers forests. A Great Blue Heron, on the other hand, can typically be found near lakes or rivers. Taking the time to observe where the bird is located can be very helpful in determining its identity.

Here are the four main habitat categories to help you narrow it down:

Woodland Habitats – Areas with dense trees, forests

Aquatic Habitats – Ponds, lakes, marshes, swamps, oceans, and beaches

Shrubland Habitats – Grassy areas with overgrown shrubs and bushes

Open Habitats – Agricultural fields, prairie lands, tundra,

Field Marks

After you’ve narrowed down your search to a handful of possible species, you can examine field marks to help you pinpoint the exact species of bird that you are working with. Many species are equipped with distinct plumage that helps to separate them from other birds.

For example, the Ruby-crowned Kinglet boasts a white eye ring and wing bar that cuts through its olive-green body. Meanwhile, Killdeer feature a double breastband that displays a pattern of black and white stripes across their chest.

Final Thoughts

Now that you have a better understanding of the basics of bird identification—size and shape, color pattern, behavior, and habitat—you should feel more confident when searching for birds in your area.

Remember that regardless of your skill level, bird identification is a lifelong journey filled with surprises and beautiful discoveries.

So, get out there and start your birding adventure today!