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How To Identify Birds In Your Backyard

Identifying Backyard Birds

Identifying backyard birds is an exciting and fulfilling way to enjoy every feathered visitor to your yard. Whether you're already familiar with your most frequent guests or if every bird is a new discovery, learning to identify birds in your yard can be a fun way to connect with nature right at home.

Watching Birds To Identify Them:

Simply watching birds carefully can reveal many identification clues. The more clues you see, the easier it will be to figure out each bird's identity.


How big is the bird? Does it have a very long tail, a big head, or a deep chest? Is it as small as a sparrow or as large as a crow?


What color is the bird? Does it have any colorful patches on its face, wings, or breast, like the mask of a waxwing or the bib of a flicker? Is the tail a different color?


Does the bird have any unique features? Does it have a crest like a blue jay, or is the tail forked like a barn swallow? What shape is the bill?


What is the bird eating? Does it prefer seed, suet, nectar, nuts, or mealworms? Is it eating quickly like a jay or taking the food away to eat privately like a titmouse?


Is the bird shy and nervous like a catbird, or is it aggressive and domineering like a grackle? How does it flap its wings or climb on branches?


Is the bird making noise? It is whistling, warbling, chirping, o screeching? Does it only have one song like a goldfinch or does it change songs like a mockingbird?


Tools For Identifying Backyard Birds

Once you have carefully observed a bird, you can use those observations to identify the species. There are many resources to help with bird identification, including field guide books, website directories, and apps. You can use whatever format you are most comfortable with, but choose guides that include local species and multiple pictures for the best details. Comparing several resources can help you feel more confident about each bird you see, and many birders have more than one field guide.

Backyard Birds You Won't See

As you're learning more about identifying backyard birds, it's important to note what birds you aren't likely to see. Some birds, such as herons and egrets, stay almost exclusively in marshy areas and aren't common backyard birds, even if they live nearby. Recognizing which types of birds prefer different habitats and what ranges birds use in different seasons can help you narrow down your backyard bird identifications. Most field guides and identification resources include range maps and habitat details to help you learn more about birds.

Attracting More Birds You Want To See 

Once you've learned the common birds in your yard, you can take steps to attract even more species. The more bird-friendly your yard is, the more species you will attract. Plant native trees, bushes, and flowers, especially those with seeds, berries, nuts, or fruits that birds will eat. Nectar-bearing flowers will also help attract birds, both with beautiful colors as well as sweet nectar that hummingbirds, finches, and orioles will sip. You can also offer diverse foods at your feeders, including seed, suet, nectar, nuts, oranges, and mealworms, to attract more hungry visitors. Use different feeder styles, such as hoppers, trays, and tubes, to accommodate different birds' feeding preferences. Adding water to your yard with bird baths and waterers is another way to attract more birds. Even shy birds that may not come to feeders will happily visit bird baths for a quick drink or splash. As they visit, you will have more time to watch them carefully for identification clues.

The Most Important Step For Bird Identification

No matter which birds you have visiting and which ones you may not have identified yet, the most important part of identifying backyard birds is practice. The more time you take to watch and enjoy birds, the more you will learn about them and start to distinguish their subtle differences. It isn't necessary to identify every single bird, but the enjoyment of practice and appreciating every visitor will help you sharpen your bird identification skills.

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