One thing I remember doing was flipping through my favorite field guide just looking at the pictures of the birds and noticing how they are organized. This is something I recommend doing whether your a beginner or advanced. Looking through your book can give you a good idea of what your looking at in the field. but don't forget to look at the real bird while its there gather information on its plumage details and behavior, back up what you saw later looking at the book. You wouldn't want to miss views of an incredible bird looking for it in the book.
|This large bird is common in urban areas and loves suet!|
Its long beak and tapered tail feathers point to woodpecker her
red underwings/ tail spotted breast and bib point to Northern Flicker.
Her lack of a red malar (or mustache) says she's a girl
You can rule out what a bird isn't by many different things, plumage colors and pattern, size, shape, bill shape and size, habitat, range, behavior and time of year, once you narrow down what it isn't you can focus on the fewer option you have left.
When your looking at a bird notice its color. Is it a bright color? or a more earthy color. Notice its size. Is it larger or smaller than the typical American Robin? Does it have any noticeable features? Streaks or spots on the breast? an eye ring? light eyes, dark eyes?
If your looking at a blackbird in a parking lot with yellow eyes you have now narrowed it down to two choices! Brewer's Blackbird and Common Grackle. (unless your out east then Great-tailed Grackle is another possibility)
Different birds live and specialize in different habitats. Familiarize yourself with the various habitats in your area and the plants and bird species of those habitats.
Here are a few along the front range
areas of tall cotton woods and thick underbrush of chokecherry, wild plumb, and willow all along a lake, river or stream.
common birds of these areas are
foothill areas covered in Gambel's Oak, juniper, Three-leaf Sumac (skunkbush) and Mountain Mahogany
marshy areas composed of mostly cattails or rushes
Herons (many types)
Watching a birds behavior can also be an indicator of what species or even what family it belongs to.
If your watching a bird sitting upright on a branch and it suddenly flies out in a little circle and comes back repeatedly it is probably a flycatcher.
If your watching a small brown bird skulk around in the bushes while wildly scolding you, you may have a wren.
Time of year
Birds migrate. Warblers leave, orioles leave, most thrushes, many herons and blackbirds leave (Colorado that is) for more abundant resources down south. On the other hand many birds arrive in the winter as well. Raptors are much more abundant in the winter and ducks! Many different kinds of ducks winter in Colorado and they are all unique and very vibrant! Make sure when your considering a bird that it has a pretty good chance of being in your area at the present time of year.
In the late summer and fall juvenile birds outnumber adults. This makes for very difficult identification on some species such as sparrows. Be trying to find an ID consider the juveniles as they often look much different than the adults.
These are just a few things to consider when looking at a bird. Think about one at a time focusing on the bird while its in sight. You can later consider other things but its very important to look at the bird itself.
Thanks for reading! -Megan