How to get good at Bird Identification

As I run the BC Rare Bird Alert, I am always inundated with identification requests. I enjoy helping people as it keeps my ID skills sharp and it's rewarding to help ease people's confusion. Yet it is ideal if people can also help themselves by trying to identify the bird first right from the first moment they see it in the field. If I simply ID the bird for them over and over am I really helping or hindering them? I am always eager to help people but just providing the answer (even with explaining the reasons why I came to that conclusion) is not truly beneficial for those who really want to learn Bird ID, unless of course one is totally stumped after trying to resolve the matter themselves.

When I am identifying bird photos sent to me, I must ID the bird from one static photo. This can be tougher but in other ways easier, as I'll explain. When I go to identify a photo that people send me I usually have much more time than the person in the field who took the photo. I can zoom in here and there and see fine details you couldn't possibly see in the field in the few brief seconds it was present in front of you.

Sometimes birds are present in the field for much longer, giving excellent identification views but usually this is not the case. The negatives to identifying a bird from a photo is that I usually only get one angle or the bird is posed in some weird unnatural position. Sometimes people are kind and send me a series of images but most of the time it is a one shot deal, especially if it is a rarity. Sometimes you simply one get one chance to snap that photo before the bird is gone.

I will give you some tips I use to identify birds from photographs and birds in the field that I hope will help you in your identification processes. Some points I will repeat a few times exacerbating their importance. I do not recommend the use of a bird identification app like Merlin. It is just not accurate enough. I've tested it out and it got too many birds wrong. It is really only semi-reliable for very common birds and will teach you to rely on the app to figure things out rather than yourself.

Before I start with the tips, did you know that birds carry their own rulers so to speak? If you compare the length of different parts on the same bird it is really valuable. Think of a Yellowlegs... is the bill the same length of the head making it a Lesser Yellowlegs? Or is the bill 1 and 1/2 times longer than the head, making it a Greater Yellowlegs? Using this ruler stick trick for bill length,wing and tail length can really help you out.

First off look at the COLOUR of the bird. Is it drab and plain or bright and bold? Note that it doesn't have to be rich in colour to be bold, just think of a Black-and-white Warbler. Look also for things that may stick out on the bird like bold wingbars and mantle (back) colour. Sometimes the mantle contrasts with the head of the bird other times it is the same colour as the head. What colour is the eye? legs? A ruby-crowned Kinglet has reddish legs but a similar Hutton's Vireo has black legs. Look at the FACIAL PATTERN of the bird. This is the first thing I look at. Many birds look alike but when you look at the face, you can see subtle and distinct differences. Think of an Orange-crowned Warbler and Tennessee Warbler. When you study a bird that is colourful you can usually see distinct colour patterns that help to identify that species. As always some are subtle and some have distinct colour differences.

When I look at photos I also take into account the LIGHTING. Is the bird really that colour or is the harsh light affecting the colour? Is the photo underexposed or overexposed? Exposure can really change the look of a bird and make it appear brighter or duller than it really is. This is why you can't use one or two features to identify a bird. When you use multiple identification features it helps to give you the complete picture of the bird's identity.

Next look at the SIZE of the bird.  Is it big or small? If it is beside a similar looking bird, size can help you out, think of the comparison between a Lesser and Greater Yellowlegs.

Next look at the SHAPE of the bird, is it shaped like a larger bird such as an oriole with a decurved bill or is it shaped like a warbler with a small bill and small tail? Note the SILHOUETTE, for similar looking birds this is particularly useful. For instance, does it look tiny with a big head and tiny bill like a kinglet?  Or does it have long legs and a long tail like a Wren or Gnatcatcher? The shape helps differentiate between different groups of birds.

Next, lets focus on POSTURE. If the bird is perched, HOW IS THE BIRD PERCHED? Warblers tend to perch horizontally, orioles for example perch more vertically. Flycatchers sit up straight.

If you see the bird in the field note HOW IS IT MOVING?. Warblers and kinglets move really fast but Hutton's Vireos, for example, move much slower. The slow movement of the Hutton's Vireo helps differentiate it from the similar Ruby-crowned Kinglet (as does the leg colour and bill shape).

When bird shapes are extremely similar like in Flycatchers and Warblers the differences become much more subtle. This is where the term "practice makes perfect" comes in. By doing it over and over again you will get better at the identification of these similar species and look for differences that may not be noticeable at first glance. Things to look for in birds such as this are bill length, colour and size, how deep is the chest?, how long is the tail?, is it bulky overall?, Is the tail square shaped?, Is the bird shape rounded or squarish? how big is the head? Is the head small in comparison to its body or large? Is the head slope round, slanted, or steep? Is the head peaked with a crown or flat? Does it have a crest? Is the bill pointed, straight, decurved or blunt? How thick is the base of the bill? Is the shape of the wings pointed like a Peregrine Falcon in flight?

What does the bird SOUND LIKE? Learning a bird's calls and songs is very helpful. It is proven that not only males sing in the breeding season but also females sing and both call. Sometimes you cannot see a bird but can only hear it. Think of a Boreal or Flammulated Owl that one rarely gets to see. If you know its call you can easily identify the bird without ever setting eyes on it. EAR BIRDING is an extreme asset in bird identification. To learn birds by ear,you need to get out there first of all and listen to them.You should make recordings and play them back at home to match them up with recordings on an app or computer. Better yet, buy a cd or mp3/mp4 set of birds calls/songs of North America where the bird is introduced by name and then the song or call is played. By listening to recordings every day over and over, even if you do this for just 20 mins a day, you will be one step ahead in the road to being able to learn the calls and songs quite easily. Some people like to relate the songs and calls to human speech. If you think of the call of a Barred Owl you will hear birders say it sounds like "who cooks for you?." If you hear that mnemonic and actually think of the owl then you are using this technique. This method works for some but not everyone, so do what works best for you, through trial and error you will get there. Try to listen for certain elements of their calls...is it buzzy or clear? Is it trilling? high or low pitched? short or long notes? Does it rise in pitch or go down in pitch? Is it loud or soft? Is there a repeating phrase pattern (most birds have this)?etc. The next time you go out in the field it will feel pretty cool to know with confidence just what you are hearing, even if you cant see it.

When you master the calls and songs, next take on the challenge of the short chip and flight calls. So many chip calls sound alikem so this takes the greatest amount of skill, concentration, patience and effort. Some people are natural earbirders and others have to really work at it. We all have our strengths in different areas of birding, so don't be too hard on yourself if ear birding is taking you longer to master than you expect.

One of the most useful features in identifying birds both in the field and in photographs is HABITAT. When I say habitat I don't just mean is it a bird in the Interior or the Coast. I mean is the bird at the top of a tree or on the ground foraging? Is it at a low elevation or a high elevation? Is it on the tree trunk like a woodpecker or in the understory like a Spotted Towhee? You don't usually see a Northern Waterthrush up high in the evergreens but down low on the ground pumping his tail by a waterway or ditch. Is the bird down by the beach ? Then it most likely is not a Gray Jay that prefers high elevation mountainous areas. Of course a Pygmy Nuthatch in a photo with a Ponderosa Pine is most likely in the Interior and not on the Coast. You can tell a lot by the background of where the bird is located both in the field or in a photo, so make sure you take note of the whole habitat and what that fully entails.

RANGE is also something you should take into effect when identifying birds. Rarities/Vagrants do occur but usually birds that are meant to be on the West Coast are more probable than an Eastern or Asian Species. So think first about the most likely range when identifying a bird.

Next, note the BEHAVIOUR of the bird.  Is it a flycatcher that is constantly pumping or wagging its tail like a Gray Flycatcher? Is it bobbing it's tail like an American Dipper or Spotted Sandpiper? Is it flitting and moving fast through the bushes like a Warbler? Is it walking on the ground or hopping like a sparrow? Is the bird curious like a chickadee or nervous looking out for danger like an American Goldfinch? Is it creeping up the trees like a Brown Creeper or down the tree like a White-breasted Nuthatch or Black-and-white Warbler? How is it foraging? Is it foraging on the ground or hawking on the wing? Is it stalking food like a heron or is it diving like an Eider or dabbling like a Green-winged Teal? Is it in a large or small flock? Or is it solitary? Some bird species usually flock together like European Starlings, Western Sandpipers and Gray-crowned Rosy-Finches. Others prefer to be solitary like Kingfishers, Loons or Red-tailed Hawks. There are always exceptions to this rule of course and especially so in the breeding season.

Getting back to the FACIAL PATTERN of birds. This is the thing I look at first when I am able to see it in the field and in photos. When you are looking at a bird for the first time and it is a lifer you will often hear people say "I can't see its face!, I have to see its face." Well that is because the face is so distinctive in identifying it. When you see the face, that is when you truly see a bird. Most birds can be identified by their face alone. Sometimes you only get a partial view of a face of a bird but some are distinctive enough for you to tell what it is. If you ever get a partial view of a male Cape May Warbler, you will know right away what it is. 

Note the cheek patterns on the face. Is there a cheek patch or lack of?, What colour is the EYE? Is there an EYERING? Is the eyering complete or broken? Is there a SUPERCILIUM (eye stripe/line above the eye)? Is there a black stripe or EYELINE through the eye? What do the LORES (partial eyeline in front of the eye) look like? Is their any marks on the top of the head? Does it have a CAP or CROWN STRIPE on the top of the head? Does it have a striking THROAT PATTERN? Does the bird have a masked appearance, like a male Common Yellowthroat? As I said before check out that bill. How big and pointed or how small and blunt is the BILL? Also what is the bill colour? Is it two toned or black? It is hooked or long and decurved or straight and short? Is there a MALAR STRIPE (that stripe that extends from the base of the bill to the side of the neck in a downwards and backwards direction) on the face? if so what colour is that malar stripe? How thick or thin is the malar stripe? Is it strong or a faint malar stripe?

Don't you see how much the face can tell you about a bird? It's very similar to a Human being in that regard.

Please do not just focus on the face though. You need to start to look at the body of the bird. Look at its breast, its stomache and its flanks (sides).  Is the bird STREAKED with black? If so is it faint or bold? Are the streaks on the flanks sparse or dense? Is the streaking on the bird coloured? For example a male Yellow Warbler possesses red streaks.

Is there a NECK PATTERN on the bird? if so is it a full necklace or a band? For example think of a Bank Swallow with a full dark neck band which is unlike a similar looking Northern Rough-winged Swallow that has no or a faint broken neck band.

Does the bird have SIDE STRIPES? Think of male Chestnut-sided Warbler with red side stripes. Is the breast coloured or plain? Does it have wingbars as discussed before? If so how many? Are the wingbars white or buffy? Are they distinct and bright or dull?

What does the BACK AND RUMP of the bird look like ? Does it have a yellow rump like a Yellow-rumped Warbler? Since,we already discussed mantle colour and crown demarcations make sure to double check and see if there is any streaking on the back

Is the WING colour distinct from the body? Think of a male Scarlet Tanager with contrasting black wings and a bright red body.

Next let's look at PRIMARY PROJECTION. How far do the tips of the folded primaries (elongated flight feathers that grow out from the end of the wing) extend past the tertials (three flight feathers that are closest to the body along the wing) on the folded wing? When you look at Shorebirds, primary projection is exceptionally useful. Think of similar Pacific Golden-Plovers and American Golden-Plovers. Frequently, in Juveniles or winter birds it is hard to tell this species apart and one way is by the primary projection. Pacific Golden-Plovers have a shorter primary projection that is usually even with the tail or just slightly past the tail. American Golden-Plovers on the other hand have a longer primary projection that extends well past the tip of the tail.

Finally, if you are able look at the UNDERTAIL COVERTS (note the length, pattern and colour). These can tell you a lot about a bird. We frequently use this when identifying warblers high above our heads flitting above us. Are the undertail coverts white? Is the belly white? Is it coloured? What colour is the vent (area between the belly and undertail coverts on the underside of the bird)? Take a look at the undertail coverts of a Black-and-white Warbler, it is very distinct with black downward arrow-like patterns.

Look at the TAIL of the bird, not only for pumping movements but for the length, shape (is it notched, pointed or square?). Look at the colour of the underside of the tail, its width and the extension past the undertail coverts. When looking at the tail look at it in relation to the bird's WINGS. This is especially helpful in Flycatcher identification. Does the tail appear long or short in relation to the wings?. Think of a Hammond's Flycatcher where the wings are long and the tail appears shorter. In contrast, a Dusky Flycatcher looks like it has shorter wings and a longer tail extension.

When looking at the tail don't forget to look at the outer tail feathers of a bird. We don't always get this chance in the field. It is more apparent for those who have the bird in the hand. However, we do get to see this feature more than we think we do or may realize. The outertail feathers are those feathers on the tail displayed on a Hummingbird when it is fighting another at a hummingbird feeder and fanning its tail. Or when a male bird like an Indian Peacock fans his tail feathers to a female. The outertail feathers are also frequently seen when we look up at a bird from below. You will see two tail feathers that are folded under the rest of the tail feathers. You should be able to see the colour of the tail from this, as that is actually the outer tail feathers peeking through. Tails can be dark in colour, grey, white, or white with black borders or black with white spots. They can look like the end of the tail was dipped in black ink or white paint or even fully coloured. Coloured undersides of tails are usually diagnostic. In flight you often see the outer tail feathers as well. Think of a Western Kingbird in flight when its white outertail feathers are easily seen. This is a helpful characteristic in helping differentiate it from a Tropical Kingbird, for example.

Take a notebook in the field with you or use your smart phone and write down or sketch what you see and/or hear. Make notes on the habitat and behavior etc. This will help you out invaluably when you get home and study photos, if you cant ID the bird in the field.

When you have a photo with only one view you may not be able to see all the field marks I have described. However, if you take some of them and apply them to identifying birds in photographs and better yet in the field, I hope it will help piece the whole bird together for you and ultimately positively ID it to a species.

If you narrow down the species ID, are you able to SEX THE BIRD?. Let's say you have identified an American Redstart. Is it black and orange or grey and yellow with a white eyering and pale lores (the region between the eyes and nostrils)? If it is black and orange, this is an adult male. For most birds, it is the male who is more brightly coloured and who in spring is singing. It has now been proven in scientific study that females sing in spring just as much as males (you can read the article on the recent reaserch on female bird song HERE).

Don't be fooled by the sex of bright beautiful spring birds because Wilson's Phalaropes females flipped the switch and are much more bright than their male counterparts,

Tips to help identify birds in FLIGHT are as follows:

What is the flight pattern of the bird, is it slow or fast wingbeats?. Does it fly straight and fast like a rocket like a Falcon with pointed wings or slow with undulating short but flitting rapid wingbeats like a chickadee. Is the shape of the wings broad and round and held forward in flight at the wrists with stiff wing flaps and glides like a Sharp-shinned Hawk? Is the wings broad and short or narrow and long? How far does the head project past the wrists in fight? Does the bird have an M-like pattern in flight like an Osprey? Do you notice a zigzag pattern marking on the back like in a Buller's Shearwater when its flying? Look for the behavior of the bird in flight. Does it hover over a field with beating wings like a Rough-legged Hawk?

When you have identified a bird try to identify that bird to a subspecies. Is it a Harlan's Red-tailed Hawk or a Krider's Red-tailed? This is a fun way to enhance your bird identification skills by looking at subtleties and differences between subspecies. Some subspecies are extremely difficult to tell apart and others simple (range also helps - don't forget that point).

The identification of Hybrids is a whole other ball game and should only be attempted when you have mastered the field identification of pure bird species first. Hybrids are hard to identify in the field for most but some are easier like Nelson's Gulls (Glaucous x Herring) or Red-shafted X Yellow-Shafted Northern Flickers. Hybrids take careful study usually of photos of the bird or long looks in the field and you really need to be familiar with both species to identify the hybrid possibilities. Hybrids do not always show the features that are clearly intermediate between the parent species. Backcrosses (the result of a hybrid breeding with a non-hybrid) confuse the matter. Some areas are typical hybrid zones like in the Pacific Northwest for Hermit X Townsend's Warblers. When trying to distinguish hybrids make sure that they naturally can occur in the same spot (use those range maps).

In BC this year we have had several rare hybrids show up. A Black-chinned X Anna's Hummingbird in Richmond and a Hermit X Townsend's Warbler in Victoria. Both were so subtle experts had to be consulted. The Victoria hybrid was likely a backcross. In Vancouver we had a Hermit X Townsend's Warbler hybrid that was not subtle at all (easily showing both species' features), see HERE. If only all hybrids were that easy.

Here is an example on how to identify a simple hybrid in the field. Let's take a hybrid Red-shafted (that occurs on the west) X Yellow-shafted Northern Flicker (that occurs on the east).

Look at this photo of an intergrade Flicker. Why is it an hybrid?

Well first off look at the wings. The wings are showing shafts of yellow peeking through.  Secondly, look at the malar stripe. The malar stripe is red which is right for Red-shafted Northern Flickers but wrong for Yellow-shafted which should have a black malar stripe. Next, note the colour of the nape of the neck. In this bird it is red, this is only present on Yellow-shafted Northern Flickers but this bird has it. Now look at the bird's face: the bird has a grey face and brown crown which is correct for Red-shafted Northern Flickers but in Yellow-shafted it is should have a brown face with a grey crown. For all these reasons it is a hybrid/intergrade.

Red-shafted X Yellow-ahafted Intergrade Flicker at its nest in Surrey, BC - Photo: Ilya Povalyaev

Once you have successfully identified the bird and determined if you may have a hybrid on your hands,  it is now time to AGE and SEX the bird. It takes a lot of patience and practice and trial and error to do this correctly. There are some birds that you can never age and sex in the field (not even the experts can do it). Some birds can only be positively aged and sexed in the hand like an Ovenbird. Two of the best books to use if you are serious about aging and sexing birds is "The Identification to North American Birds - volume I and II" by Peter Pyle and the "Peterson Reference Guide to Molt in North American Birds"

However, for most birds you can age and sex the birds with minimal difficulty. Of course males in breeding plumage in the spring are in your typical field guides and are usually relatively easy to identify with a field guide in hand. I suggest using THE STOKES FIELD GUIDE TO THE BIRDS OF NORTH AMERICA by Donald and Lillian Stokes. This photographic field guide shows you all the ages, sexes and plumage variations in different subspecies and you actually learn about the birds behavior,voice, flight style, range, habitat, migration patterns and nesting habits etc. If you prefer illustrative guides you cannot go wrong with The Sibley Guide to Birds by David Sibley or The National Geographic Field Guide to the Birds of North America by Jon L. Dunn.

A good tip is to buy 2 copies of your favourite field guide. One copy to take with you in the field (or at least keep in your car) that you don't care if it gets dirty and one to stay nice and clean at home.

Adult Females in breeding usually look drab or completely different in comparison to the males but are still relatively easy to identify with a field guide using the field marks I have referenced above. Adult females especially in raptors are larger lengthwise and width wise than their male counterparts.

It does get super tricky though when an adult male has turned drab and an adult female is bright, which means they can both have the same colours. This takes a higher level of expertise to differentiate. Also, difficulty arises when adults in breeding turn to winter plumage and look nothing like their spring plumage and when juvenile birds come into play.

Juvenile sparrows are particularly hard to identify for most people. The ABA "Birding Magazine" just published a fantastic article from June 2017 with excellent photos written by Peter Pyle et al. on this very topic. You can read that HERE. Different species of birds go through different moult cycles but I will speak on the topic in general terms.

Let's start first with ADULTS IN FALL PLUMAGE

Birds that aren't born in the summer go through a PREBASIC MOULT (a full postbreeding moult) at the end of the summer. During the prebasic moult all their feathers get replaced. The plumage is then called DEFINITIVE BASIC and the bird retains that plumage while it migrates to its wintering grounds in the fall.

JUVENILE AND 1ST YEAR BIRDS

After a bird is born it has a juvenile plumage that is present just shortly after they fledge. Almost immediately after fledging they go through a partial moult which is the PREFORMATIVE MOULT to FORMATIVE PLUMAGE (the 1st year fall plumage). During this process they replace all of their feathers on their body but keep their juvenile wing and tail feathers. The juvenile feathers that are left are present until the following year's PREBASIC MOULT. Therefore, these feathers are worn and dull and weak in respect to the adult feathers. This causes a difference in colour between the juvenile worn feathers and the rest of the feathers. This can be frequently seen in the field or in photographs and is called the MOULT LIMIT. If you see the moult limit, it means that you are looking at a 1st year bird (more on this later). Look for the difference in contrast between the greater coverts and the primary coverts, you can really see this if the greater and/or median coverts are still present when the fresh and worn feathers are side by side. In the spring this can be more difficult to see because the adult flight feathers will be much more worn by this time.

A Juvenile Audubon's Yellow-rumped Warbler looks very different from an adult - Photo: Melissa Hafting

MOULT LIMIT IN MEDIAN COVERTS

A benefit of studying photographs in order to identify birds is that you can look at subtle differences in the median coverts that you may not get a chance to see adequately in the field. When Ilya Povalyaev found a Chestnut-sided Warbler (CSWA) in Vancouver in Sept 2016 it was initially identified as a 1st year/female type bird. Since I like a challenge, I wanted to age and sex this bird from the few photos I was sent. Peter Candido sent me a few photos that he took of the bird that showed the differences in covert age that helped age the bird. While zooming in on the bird's wings I could see that the yellow older median coverts were contrasting with the whiter newer median coverts (the moult limit) and this proved it was a 1st year bird instead of an adult female. However, now I had to narrow it down to a 1st year male or a 1st year female. Sometimes this is impossible in Chestnut-sided Warblers of this age. Luckily there was a bit of red streaking present on the flanks of the bird which allowed for me to positively identify the bird as a 1st year Male! 1st year Females never show any red streaking on the flanks and not all 1st year males show it either but in this case its presence was diagnostic.

Below are photos of the 1st year male Chestnut-sided Warbler found by Ilya Povalyaev in Queen Elizabeth Park on Sept 12, 2016 in Vancouver, BC:

1st year male Chestnut-sided Warbler, note the hint of a red flank stripe - Photo: Peter Candido

Note the moult limit on the bird. Yellow/older median coverts contrast with the white/new median coverts confirm it is a 1st year bird - Photo: Peter Candido

The yellow older median coverts in this stock photo of a CSWA, contrast with the white new median coverts indicating a first year bird.


SPRING BREEDING PLUMAGE

Some species go through a PREALTERNATE MOULT (partial moult) in winter before and during their migration to their breeding grounds. In this partial moult no flight feathers are moulted. Only the breast, head and wing feathers are replaced. These are the parts of the birds that are most recognizable to people when identifying a species. In some species that look totally different in winter and spring plumage, this moult is very obvious. In other species on the wintering grounds only a small amount of the feathers are moulted and in some birds no feathers are replaced at all. It gets complicated though when a bird species does not moult but still changes appearance.

Some 1st year birds that were born in the previous summer, moult the same feathers as the adults do in the winter .This occurs when the 1st year birds go through a prealternate moult but in certain birds only the 1st year birds will moult and their appearance will change from their fall to spring breeding plumage. This moult does not include any of the flight feathers and these feathers remain and will become worn.

If I haven't thoroughly confused you I hope I have helped clear up a few things and provided a few beneficial tips on how to identify, age and sex birds in the field and with photos at home.

Good Birding,
Melissa Hafting


If you want more species tailored-specific books to help identify birds, I recommend the following:

For Seabirds (particularly useful for or on Pelagics): "Petrels, Albatrosses, and Storm-Petrels of North America: A Photographic Guide" by Steve Howell.

For Rare Birds (one of my favourite things): "Rare birds of North America" by Steve Howell, Ian Lewington and Will Russell 

For Raptor ID: "A Photographic Guide to North American Raptors" by Brian Wheeler

For Hawks in flight at a distance (great for hawk watches): "Hawks at a distance" by Jerry Liguori

Comments

  1. THIS WAS REALLY INFORMATIVE MEL. THANKS FOR TAKING THE TIME TO HELP OUT SO MANY. i KNOW I FOR ONE SEND YOU MULTIPLE IDENTIFICATION QUESTIONS A MONTH (WHICH I HOPE YOU KNOW I'M SO GRATEFUL FOR) AND THIS BLOG POST WILL DEFINITELY AID ME. I WILL ORDER SOME OF THE GUIDES YOU MENTIONED AS WELL. I AM PARTICULARY INTERESTED IN THE HAWKS AT A DISTANCE ONE. I AM IMPRESSED BY YOUR DEPTH OF KNOWLEDGE AND YOUR GENEROSITY IN SHARING IT WITH OTHERS. YOU ALWAYS STOOD OUT FROM THE CROWD FOR ME FOR THAT REASON.

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  2. Outstanding commentary Mel , a wealth of information .

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  3. Love the thoroughness of this discussion on bird identification! Identifying birds can seem hard at first - even the diversity of plumages within a single species can be overwhelming. It really helps to know what to focus on first in order to consistently get the right answer and this guide can signpost us in the right direction. The wonderful part of developing our identification skills is that they are truly a lifelong journey of discovery - and there is always more of each of us to learn.

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  4. Great write-up! Very detailed information on a number of topics, which is definitely appreciated. I'm sure many people will consult this while working on their identifications! I also found the link on the list of subspecies to be very interesting. Another helpful resource which I didn't know existed!

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  5. What fantastic tips on how to identify birds. As a novist birder this really helps me figure out what I am looking at! Thanks for the tips!

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  6. Awesome write up. Thanks! I am starting to pick up some of the points mentioned just as a intuitive hunch. However, having a formal process makes it so much more clear and consistent. I have to confess that if I had to learn all these without the use of digital photography or the internet, the learning process would have been so much more difficult (time-wise or cost-wise).

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  7. Thanks everyone for your kind comments. I'm glad this write up helped. It took a long time to write so glad it was worth it! With dedication and practice through lots of trial and error is how you get there. Patience is your friend and never giving up when it seems impossible to figure out. The cool thing about birding is that there is always something new to learn which makes it so much fun and never boring. All the best.

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  8. great tips mel! i'm always learning something new from you. thanks

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