I use several reference tools when trying to identify a particular bird I have seen, heard or photographed. I have added links to specific websites mentioned on this page, these links are also available on my Birding & Travel Website Links page. Just click on the highlighted words and the website will open in a new tab on your computer or mobile device.
The Audubon Society
Don’t forget to check out your local Audubon Society. They have a ton of information on birding walks, area, local birding societies, etc. You can find a link to your local Audubon Society on the National Audubon Society’s website.
Field Guides are wonderful reference tools and easy to carry with you on bird watching expeditions. I think it is a bit hard to look up a bird every time you see a new one. Personally, I don’t carry my field guides with me when I am outside. I take photographs of the birds, animals and plants and then look them up when I am at home before I publish the photos here.
These are the field guides I have used
- The Sibley Field Guide to Birds of Eastern North American (David Allen Sibley)
- The Sibley Field Guide to Birds of Western North America (David Allen Sibley)
- The Birds of Costa Rica: A Field Guide (Richard Garrigues and Robert Dean)
- Peterson Field Guide to Birds of Western North America (Roger Tory Peterson)
- Peterson Field Guide to Birds of Eastern and Central North America (Roger Tory Peterson)
- iBird Pro App (very convenient to take into the field with you when looking for birds in North America)
Internet Search Engines
Once I think I have identified a specific bird I always Google it and look at others images on the internet. This way I can verify that I have correctly identified the animal in question. Sometimes, there are slight variances or mannerisms that make identification difficult. When comparing images I always double check with video and audio references too.
There are lots of bird identification websites out there. Some even have mobile apps that can be added to your smart phone or tablet. All are probably great. I have only used www.allaboutbirds.org and www.whatbird.com. I can recommend both of these websites as those that have helped to guide me in the right direction. Sometimes they are a little cumbersome to use, but eventually they get the job done.
This is a great website. It is actually part of the allaboutbirds.org website and is beta testing right now, but I really like it. It is a photo bird identifier. You upload a photo, click on a few key places (eye, bill tip & tail tip) add where you took the photo and when and usually it identifies the bird exactly. Sometimes there are several possible choices, but I’ve usually found an almost exact photo of the photo I took which is identified correctly. I love it. It is Merlin’s Bird ID App.
As I try other websites, I will add my experience with them here.
I’ve also sent photos of birds I have seen and can’t seem to identify myself to friends who are experienced birders. Usually they gently point out that what I have witnessed is a very common bird. I am immediately embarrassed, but I have the answer I was looking for. I don’t bother experienced birders as much as I did when I first started bird watching, but it is nice to know they are there to help if I really am stuck. Someday, I hope a young bird watcher will ask me for help. I think that day will come in 20 or so years.
Bird Species Check Lists
I find these are a helpful tool when you’re in a new area and want to know what birds frequent that space. They are usually fairly easy to keep folded up in your pocket if you don’t want to carry a field guide with you. When I travel with other birders to Costa Rica and beyond, we always check off the species we’ve seen on a localized species check list and compare notes after a full day of birding.
Other Reference Books
I have been reading Sibley’s Birding Basics on and off for a few years. It is very informative and starts with the very simple basics. I think it is well written, but I am a more hands on type of learner, so I’ve discovered by trial and error what has and does work for me when I’m birding. I still struggle identifying birds that appear very similar like almost every flycatcher in North America. Sibley discusses how to look at birds quickly when trying to identify them, beak shape/size, head shape/size, eye ring/no eye ring, etc. I’m sure learning these tips and practicing will help tremendously when I am alone looking at a bird as compared to in a group of people looking at the same bird.
I still have a lot to read in the book and will probably finish it one day. But for now, I am happy with what I’m doing.