Starting to identify birds is not difficult. You start by acquiring a range of skills that allow you to discriminate between a series of more or less similar species and, above all, to learn how to look for the field characteristics that enable you to rule out certain species.


How big is the species you are looking at?

To figure that out, it is useful to compare with birds of known sizes, such as sparrows, pigeons, gulls or ducks. Keep in mind the distance from which you are watching: at a distance, a large bird may seem smaller.


Whether perched or in flight, it is important to become accustomed with the most common shapes:.

Is it round or elongated? Is its tail long or short? What is its neck like? When flying, are its wings rounded or pointed? Also, pay attention to the shape of its beak (long, short, curved, cone-shaped, thin, etc.) and its legs (long, short).


It's normal for many bird observations to be made only in flight.

How does it fly? Does it flap its wings constantly or only sometimes, does it hover or soar in circles without flapping them?


Features such as colour are very useful...

But beware, colour may vary with ambient light, the position relative to the sun, the wear of the feathers and other factors such as the specimen's physiological state. It is important to look closely to see if it has stripes on the wings, bands around the eyes, etc.


Behaviour can at times be defining.

Where is it feeding? On the ground, in water, on a branch? How does it swim? Does it dive? Is it alone or with others? When walking, does it walk or hop its way around?


Where is it? Many similar species that are difficult to differentiate use different environments, even when sharing habitat.

For example, for some species it is important to know if it's in the high branches of a forest's trees or in the lower areas.


The distribution maps in field guides are highly useful.

Very similar species may not be found at the same time at the same place.


Sometimes, distinguishing two very similar species is easy because their songs or calls are different.

A keen bird watcher not only watches, but also listens. Many species can be distinguished and even simply detected thanks to calls and songs: there are species that can just barely be seen but are easily located by their song.