Have you observed how quickly a professional birder can identify birds as soon as he spots one? How do they do it? Well, its not easy – at least for a beginner. But then, its not that difficult either as you get experienced over time. Here are a few tips to identify bird that the team of ‘Birds of Gujarat‘ have penned down based on their learning from their journey over years.
Observing a few basic things about a bird can help you narrow it down and ease the process of identification. Simply by noting the size, shape, flight pattern and the habitat you can recognise many birds. Here we have compiled a list of items which can help you with bird identification in the field. Of course, the website of Birds of Gujarat is always there if you are confused.
Identifying a bird from a distance is often done by observing the shape of the bird. The shape may help to narrow down a bird to its family. Confusion mainly occurs if you start with the colours of the bird to start with the identification. The plumage of a bird may vary in different seasons and so starting with the shape can surely help to narrow down your choices.
This can be a bit tricky as distance comes into play and you do not know how far the bird is. Moreover, to be more accurate you need something beside the bird to compare the size and take a judgement. Start by sizing the bird to the common sizes like robin size, crow size, goose size, etc. and see if the bird is smaller or larger than that size. Using a known bird as a baseline ruler to identify the one that you spot is a helpful identification technique.
Since birds do not have hands, their bill/beak is the most important body part. Start by noting the shape of the bill/beak. They vary depending on the species and are specialized for their particular diet. A raptor will have a hook shaped beak/bill as it needs to tear the flesh of its prey while a bird which feeds on nectar of a flower will have a long, thin, needle shaped bill/beak.
Many species have a specific habitat as the food available to the birds in those areas is in abundance. Habitat is important when identifying a bird as you narrow down to only those birds which you are likely to see in that area. For example, ducks, gulls, terns, etc. being water birds are found in wetlands or areas where there is water.
The male species in birds is more colourful as compared to the female. The plumage not only adds to the beauty but it also helps the bird to protect themselves from their predators. Every bird has a distinctive pattern which is generally known as field marks. Common field marks have been shown in the image above. The most important out of them are the markings on the head and the wing. On the head, the eyeline (line that runs through the eye), crown, throat, colour of beak while on the wings, markings like wingbars and wing patches help with identification. Do note that each bird species has a different plumage when its breeding, called the breeding plumage. Most birds moult (shed feathers) before and after breeding and so identifying a bird based on plumage may require the knowledge of their breeding seasons.
Most birds fly in a straight line, but then there are few which have a characteristic flight pattern that can help identify them. A finch can be seen doing a roller-coaster flight while a woodpecker flies in a rise and fall pattern. Birds of prey may be seen flying high in circular patterns soaring on the thermals while flapping their wings for short durations.
Songs and Calls
Most birds can be identified by their sounds. Songs are usually sung by adult males during nesting or mating season while calls are heard all year round. There is a typical rhythm, pitch and repetition to the sounds of the birds which can help narrow down the species. Of course, this requires some practice in order to develop a discerning ear.