Tips for Identifying Backyard Birds
Birdwatching is a favorite pastime of many Mississippians. My grandmother had a bird book she wore out over the years. I fondly remember sitting on the porch swing with her as a child trying to identify the different birds that frequented her house. Sometimes we were successful in finding the bird, other times not so much.
There are hundreds of bird species in Mississippi and in North America. Just how can you tell which is which? There are some birds that everyone can identify. Birds like Northern Mockingbirds, Blue Jays, and American Goldfinch are easily identified here in the South. But what about the other birds? Grab a pair of binoculars, a bird identification guide, and check out these tips to get you started:
- Pay close attention to the bird’s shape and size. Taking note of its size will help categorize the bird. Does it have a long beak? Small head? Is it large or small? Generally, large birds are a type of hawk or eagle. Smaller birds are normally perching birds. This will be a great start to help you put a name to the bird that’s been hanging around your yard. Try to compare the size of the bird to the size of another bird you already know.
- What color is the bird? Pay attention to its color patterns and markings. This is a major clue when identifying a bird. Some birds are named after their color, such as the Northern Cardinals and Eastern Bluebirds. Generally, male birds have more vivid coloring than female birds.
- Observe the bird’s behavior. When it flies, does it soar or flap its wings? Does it hop on the ground? Is it alone or with other birds? Is it a very vocal bird or is it generally quiet? These clues will help narrow down your list of possible birds.
- Finally, think about where you see the bird and what time of year it is. This should help you narrow down the list of possible birds. You’re very unlikely to find birds that hang out around bodies of water anywhere where there isn’t water. Many birds only appear during a certain season. Many bird identification books will narrow it down for you based on migratory patterns.
Identifying birds will take a lot of patience, practice, and learning. You might want to snap a picture of the bird you’re trying to identify to help you remember its characteristics. The birds give you all the clues, all you have to do is solve the puzzle!
While many people still use bird identification books, there are several smartphone apps to help you identify your birds. Extension Wildlife Biologist Adam Rohnke recommends checking out the Merlin App by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. It’s a handy resource to help beginner birders!
If you have a pair of binoculars for bird watching, you might want to check out our blog post on how to adjust binoculars for birdwatching!
Want to attract more birds to your yard? There are a variety of items you can incorporate into your landscape that will bring birds to your property. Learn how to attract birds to your home in this section of our website. Remember: if you provide shelter, food, and water, they’ll come!
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