How To Identify BirdsSong Sparrow

Birders at all levels see birds they don’t know. To identify birds you don't know practice answering the following questions looking at a bird from the top down.

1. Silhouette

  • Look at the bird’s overall size, shape and posture. Is it the size of  something familiar like a sparrow, robin or crow? How does it sit, perch or fly?

2. Head Markings

  • Does the bird have a colorful or striped cap, also known as a crown? Is there a stripe above or through the eye, or does it have an eye ring or  “spectacles?” Look for cheek patches or a mustache. Is there a white throat patch?

3. Body Markings

  • What are the overall back, breast and belly colors? What’s on the chest: a patch, spots, streaks or is it clear? Are the flanks (sides of body) clear or  streaked? Is there a white or yellow rump patch?

4. Wing Markings

  • Are the wings a different color than the body? Are there wing bars or spots?

5. Tail Shape and Markings

  • Is the tail long or short compared to the body? Is it forked, squared, pointed  or another shape? Are there certain colors or vertical or horizontal stripes?

We offer a variety of binoculars and field guides that will help determine a birds identity, like the Song Sparrow pictured. With practice, you will quickly gather all the clues you need to positively identify birds.

For more tips on how to better identify birds, visit

The Cornell Merlin Bird ID App is an excellent and intuitive way to verify your identification. Answer three questions regarding the characteristics of the bird in question or simply upload a picture to get an identification. Best of all this resource is free.