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How to ID birds

There are 4 main things to think about when identifying a bird.

Size & shape

Birds come in a variety of sizes. Some birds, like sparrows, can be pretty small. Other birds, like robins and thrushes, are larger. Larger still are ducks and geese! In terms of shape, the shape of a bird's bill or tail can be very helpful for identification.


Color pattern

Birds come in every color of the rainbow, and some birds really know how to put on a show with multiple colors in various stripes, polkadots, solid patterns and splotches. Colors and patterns can be especially helpful for identification.


Bird behavior

Some birds swoop through the air eating bugs, while others hunt through the grass on the ground. Some birds flap lazily in flight, while others work very hard with rapid wingbeats. As you bird more and more, you will become familiar with certain behaviors which can help for identification.



Some birds might look really similar in size and color, but it turns out one lives in dry grasslands and the other lives in wetter areas. Birds help connect us to nature as they all need different habitats to live, and paying attention to your surroundings can help with identification.

An Eastern Screech Owl in a tree cavity.

Which owl do you think this is?
by Cory Elowe

Back to those owls...

I can tell it's an owl because it is streaky, larger than a baseball, and has a sharp beak and big eyes. These are characteristics owls have in common.

One is the Eastern Screech-Owl and one is the Barred Owl. But how do I know?


Size & shape: Screech-owls are smaller and have little "tufts" of feathers sticking up from their heads.

Color pattern: They have yellow eyes, and their feathers are more speckly. They can be red or gray in color.

Bird behavior: During the day, Screech-owls typically hang out in cavities of trees or up against trunks staying hidden.

Habitat: Screech-owls are often in forested areas near streams.


Size & shape: Barred Owls are larger and their heads appear rounded without tufts.

Color pattern: They have more gray and white vertical stripey feathers, and have black eyes.

Bird behavior: During the day, Barred Owls can sometimes be seen perching in trees, less hidey.

Habitat: They are often in large forests.

A Barred Owl's face.

Which owl do you think this is?
by Cory Elowe

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