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SPEA is an Environmental not-for-profit organization whose mission is to support research and conservation of wild birds and their habitats, by promoting sustainable development for the benefit of future generations.
Home  > Birdwatching > Our birds > Identifying birds
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Identifying birds
Bird identification in the field is an exciting challenge. It may seem easy at first sight but in truth it can be quite a task and requires a good amount of patience. Inexperienced birdwatchers tend to look at a bird as a whole. This way they miss quite a few details, essential for identification. Each bird order has unique traits that distinguish them from the rest. Therefore, the first step is learning to look at birds selectively. Several traits should be considered:

Size: Assessing a bird's size if the first step towards its identification. Size should be estimated by comparing to more common species, whenever possible.

Colour: Bird colouration is usually one of the most important elements of identification. It should be taken into account that under poor lighting conditions colours may appear different.

Distinctive marks: Most birds have distinctive marks in their plumage that set them apart from others. You should look for anything that stands out in the plumage.

Shape and silhouette: A bird's shape and silhouette are also quite helpful for their identification. Usually, their correct assessment rules out several possibilities.

Behaviour: Many bird species have distinctive behaviours. Their careful observation can provide solid evidence towards identification.

Songs and calls: Most birds have distinctive songs and calls. Listening to their sounds is one of the most reliable means of identification.

In flight: Quite often, birds can only be observed while in flight. Generally, these are fleeting observations. Identification must be accomplished immediately, since you rarely get a second chance. The type of flight (e.g. gliding or flapping) and its trajectory (e.g. in a straight line or in circles) can also be used for identification.

Plumages: Plumages often differ between juvenile/immature and adult birds, as well as between males and females. In addition, many bird species change their appearance depending on seasons, acquiring a more flashy plumage during matting season and a more inconspicuous one during the rest of the year.

As we all know, birds are covered in feathers. These are not distributed uniformly, creating regions, more or less evident, which, despite some variations, are common to all birds. Together with the naked parts (beak and legs), these regions are what is generally called bird topography.

Knowing the topography of birds is essential to identifying them.







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