When working with new birders, I frequently notice that many of them have trouble describing details of a bird. This makes it hard for them to work through the process identifying the species. When people ask me to help with identifying a bird, here are some of the main details I’m looking for.
This can be one of the trickier identification features. We have a hard time telling how big a bird is unless there is something to directly compare it to. Do your best to find something you can compare a bird to for an accurate size. Also, always remember that the positioning of the bird can effect the apparent size.
Shape is often over looked when talking about identification. Try to compare the shape of the bird to other species that you know. Does it look like a woodpecker, finch, chickadee, etc?
This tends to be the first thing people notice about a bird but it’s not always the most helpful. Although birds come in many different colors, there are also many species that have the same colors as well. Obviously, color will be something you notice but try to see more than just the main color of the bird.
Many times field marks are critical to making a correct identification. Look for things like wing-bars, a tuft, stripes, spots, or anything else that might really separate the bird you are seeing from others.
Behavior can also help eliminate some species from consideration. Take note of any behavior that you observe. This could be whether or not the bird visited your feeder, where it tended to perch, flight pattern, or any number of other things.