Ark Country Store

Who Are You? Identifying Backyard Birds

When you first notice the bright-colored yellow and black bird in your yard, all you can do is admire it.  However, when you learn that the bird is an Evening Grosbeak, you’ll know that a simple tube feeder with Black-oil Sunflower seeds will keep him coming back.  Being able to identify the birds that frequent your yard can make you a better host by offering the right type of bird feeder and food or planting the right types of shrubs and plants.

A bird guide or field guide is a logical place to start when you want to identify your mystery bird.  Additionally, the Internet offers a number of websites you can visit to help you learn the species of birds you’ve been viewing. Wild Bird Library is a great place to start for a quick reference on your common backyard visitors.

However, turning through pages and pages of your typical field guide or looking at picture after picture on a website can be an overwhelming and time consuming task.  But here are a few facts about the mystery bird that you can gather to make identification easier:



To quickly judge a birds size ask yourself: “Is it roughly the size of a robin or a sparrow”



Pay attention to the overall color, but also the colors of different body parts.

  •     What color is its back?
  •     What color is its underside?
  •     What color are its wings and tail?


The tail can be the main giveaway to the bird’s identification.  It can help you tell the difference between types of sparrows, swallows or other look-alikes.

  •     Is the tail long, stubby or in between?
  •     Does the tail have a deep fork or notch in the middle
  •     Is the tip of the tail pointed, rounded or square?


Where birds hang out can also be a good indicator to their identity.  Shy sparrows stay in the brush or grass.  Filed birds want more open spaces and woodpeckers always hanging from a tree or branch.  You can check this information in the Habitat section of your reference guide.

Field Marks:

Field marks are details that can seal the deal on your bird’s identification.  Field marks are unique to birds and can make it much easier to zero in on your mystery bird.  here are a few questions to consider:

  •    Are there streaks or dots on its breast and/or belly?
  •    Are there thin stripes or wide bars on its wings or tail?  Is it a single bar or two bars?
  •    Does the tail have a different colored band at the tip?
  •    Is there a stripe or distinct ring at the eye?

Of course this is a lot of information to take notice of in the minute or two that the bird sits at your feeder or bushes.  If you’re not comfortable relying on your memory, keep a digital camera nearby to snap a quick photo of the mystery bird.  You’ll then have a fresh image to refer to as you search your bird guide.