SIZE AND SHAPE
Size and shape are important when trying to identify a bird. Whether you have only a split second when watching a warbler flit from branch to branch or an hour on a mudflat watching shorebirds, the size and shape of the bird will be important clues to its identity. Compare the bird with one you know. Is it slim like a mockingbird, or plump like a pigeon? Take special note of the bird's body, bill, wings, and tail.
A Birder's Yardstick
Learning to recognize common birds will greatly improve your birding skills. Beginning birders should learn the sizes of these six common birds. When you see a new bird, compare it to these six. Is the bird bigger than a robin's 8 to 11 inches? Is it smaller than the 14 inches of the Rock Dove (or Common Pigeon)? Add this information to that of shape, color, song, field marks, and the other key clues and you will quickly narrow down your choices.
The Shape of a Bird
The shape of a bird is also an important clue to identification. Many birds are well known and we recognize them instantly. The stocky, upright stance of a robin, for example, is very familiar. Other birds are more difficult to identify. When observing a bird in flight, note whether the wings are rounded like those of a grouse, or sharply pointed like a tern's. Look at the tail. Is it forked like a Barn Swallow's, pointed like a Mourning Dove's, or squared off like many of the flycatchers? Noticing the shape of the bill is useful for identification. Is it dagger-shaped like a heron's, short and stout like a seed-cracking sparrow's, or hooked like the bill of a bird of prey?