In our guide of birds for beginners, we’ll go over what observations can help you to easily identify local wild birds. These tips will teach you the traits that most birders initially pay attention to such as the size of the bird and the coloring. We’ll also go over what you should document when you sight a bird, so you can learn from each experience, which will make it easier to identify other birds in the future. For most birders, the challenge that comes with identifying a bird is one of the best aspects of this hobby. In the beginning, for many, the inability to immediately identify a bird can be very frustrating and may seem difficult, but we’ve included some great tips that will make your first birding experience more enjoyable and much easier.

Our birds for beginners guide will teach you about the characteristics of a bird to pay close attention to in order to properly identify any bird you sight. These techniques are the same that many experienced birders use and they can really work wonders to help you document more thoroughly on each bird you sight during your outing. Keep in mind that you’ll need to write down as much information as possible about the birds in the beginning, and it can take longer than you would expect to ID a bird, especially since many local wild birds share so many characteristics. However, once you get the hang of this exciting hobby, you’ll find that you’re able to easily identify birds in a matter of seconds.

These steps for identifying a bird will be the same regardless of whether you’re taking a hike, walking down the beach, or enjoying a quiet evening at home and watching the birds that visit your bird feeders. Read on to find out how!

Bird Size

When you’re trying to identify a bird, the first thing you should pay attention to is their size. Birds tend to fall into size categories, such as small, medium, and large. To help you to better gauge the size, try using this trick with items around your home. In no time at all, you’ll be able to automatically judge the size of a bird more accurately. In many field guides, the size is provided for each type of bird, measuring from the end of its tail to the tip of its bill.

Keep in mind, a bird that’s hunched over eating will appear much fatter and shorter compared to a bird that’s perched on a tree branch. A bird that’s startled suddenly may also look much longer compared to what it looks like when it’s totally relaxed. Additionally, a bird may look thin if they are holding their feathers tightly against their body, or rounder and fatter when their feathers are fluffed out. Because of this, you’ll need to carefully watch a bird for several minutes in order to accurately determine its size.

Observing a Bird

For the expert and the beginner, the most important piece of birding advice is to pay more attention to the bird, not the field guide. If you spend too much time looking through the field guide trying to quickly identify the bird, the odds are it will fly off before you’re even able to find the correct bird in the guide.

When you’re observing a bird, begin with a general impression. What is the most distinctive thing about the bird? The answer will be the basic description of the bird’s appearance, size, and shape. As an example, this is a thinner bird that’s tall, large and has long legs. In some cases, this type of general impression is enough to accurately identify a bird. But the real key to identifying any bird is paying attention to the pattern on the bird’s head. Does the bird have a mask, lines over the eyes, or stripes on the head? Are there noticeable patches of color or the cheeks?

Bill Shape

Pay close attention to the bird’s bill. The shape of the bill is another indication regarding the family to which the bird belongs. When we say family, we’re referring to the species of birds that are closely related. These birds will share many of the same characteristics. As an example, warblers will have thin and short bills, while sparrows will have thick, short bills. Mockingbirds and thrashers will have curved, thin, long bills.


After you’ve checked out the head and noted any colors and patterns, next, you’ll want to pay attention to the bird’s underparts, wings, and back. Note whether the color of the underbelly is lighter or darker than the head, whether the back had streaks or any other noticeable patterns of color and indicate if the bird had a somewhat plain, solid appearance.


A bird’s wings can also provide important information. The absence or presence of wing bars can help to narrow down the species. Many birds are divided into groups depending on whether they have wing bars or not. Wing bars are usually pale, contrasting lines that are found across the wings.


Is the tail lighter or darker than the back? Is it forked or rounded, short or long? Is it a solid color? Is it angled down or held cocked?

Related Questions

What’s Better for Birding: Binoculars or a Spotting Scope?

Many birders firmly believe that binoculars like the Swarovski Optik 58140 CL Companion Prism Binoculars are a better option for birdwatching. These lightweight binoculars will provide excellent magnification and range, and can make it easier to capture important details compared to a spotting scope. If you’d like to learn more about birding binoculars, click here to read our buyer’s guide.

How Do You Properly Adjust Binoculars for Birding?

ID’ing a bird isn’t going to become second nature overnight. In fact, it can take weeks or months to become familiar with the variety of birds even in your own backyard, and for many, this is one of the most exciting and challenging aspects of this hobby. Of course, the seasoned birder can easily identify a bird, even without first consulting their field guide.

Beginners may struggle to adjust and use their binoculars in the beginning, depending on lighting conditions, environment, and even the distance of the bird. However, over time, you’ll automatically know exactly how much or little to zoom in order to clearly sight birds and other wildlife. To learn more, click here to read our article on how to use binoculars.

Final Thoughts

While these birds for beginner tips may sound like a lot of information to remember, once you’ve applied these tips when you’re trying to identify a bird, you’ll quickly realize you can really rely on them each and every time.   Documenting this type of information can also teach you a lot more about birds than just what species they are. It can also tell you whether a bird is sick or healthy, male or female, old or young. For many, birding is fun, challenging, and fascinating. And with the right techniques, you’ll quickly be able to identify a number of local wild birds found all over your neck of the woods.

Birds for Beginners: How to Properly Identify Wild Birds
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Birds for Beginners: How to Properly Identify Wild Birds
Learn what bird characteristics can help you to easily identify any bird, what you should document, and the type of pro gear you need for birding.