Identify the Birds in Your Backyard

Learn how to identify the birds in your yard.

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Observe Birds in Your Yard

Many people enjoy watching the birds in their back yard but have no idea how to go about identifying them. Opening a field guide will give you somewhere around 900 birds to choose from and the task may seem daunting. So here are a few tips to help you get started.

·          How big is it? - Find something in your yard that you can measure; a plant plot, rock, maybe even a bird feeder. Once you know the size of that object you can judge the size of a bird in comparison. Field guides generally give the size of a bird from bill tip to tail tip.

·          What shape is it? - Does your bird have a fat body and short tail or is it slim with a long tail? Are the legs long or short, are the wings neatly folded against the body or do they project beyond

·          What type of beak does it have? - Beaks are adapted to the type of food the birds prefer. Finches have beaks made for cracking open seeds. Verdins have sharp tweezer-shaped beaks for seizing insects from trees and plants. Hummingbirds have long probing beaks that they use to find nectar in tubular shaped flowers but they can also catch insects in flight. Woodpeckers have beaks shaped like chisels that they can use to get into cacti and trees for food and to make a home.

·          How does it behave? - Is your bird always on the ground with other birds of the same size and appearance? Can it feed from your bird feeder by hanging on or does it have to wait underneath for what other birds drop? Does your bird prefer to fly from place to place or does it hop or walk? Does it prefer to perch on trees and bushes or does it like to investigate the undergrowth. Is your bird solitary, coming to your yard by itself or is your bird gregarious, always turning up with other birds who look the same? If it comes with other birds is it a large number of birds, ten to twenty at a time or is it a small family group of two to five?

·          What color is it? - Always look for a pattern in the plumage and you will, of course, notice color. A word of warning though, color can be deceptive. Diet, health, age, sex and season can all have an affect on color.

·          What does it sound like? - Birds have calls which they use to communicate everyday messages, like “I’ve got food,” or “Look out danger.” They also have songs which they use to defend territory or attract mates.

Identify Birds in Your Yard

Now that you’ve collected some information on your bird you can visit ASU’s Bird Finder to identify it. Here you will not only find images and descriptions of birds but also recordings of their calls.

Or experiment with field guides. You can check out different field guides at your local library, or come by the Audubon Center for an excellent small guide to the Birds of Phoenix which is a great starting point for beginning birders.

Learn More by Taking a Bird Walk or Birding Class

To learn even more, try a Bird Walk or a Beginning Birding Class. The Rio Salado center offers free bird walks and beginning birding classes. See our events calendar for details. If you can’t get to the Center or you live in another part of Arizona check out your local Audubon Chapter who likely have their own Bird Walks and classes.

Of course you don’t have to know the name to appreciate the beauty of a bird. Once you can identify a bird, however, you are able to find out so much more information and suddenly you have opened the door to a fascinating world that will intrigue you for a life time.


The Rio Salado Audubon Center’s Audubon at Home website is the result of a partnership between the City of Phoenix and Audubon Arizona as part of the U.S.  Fish and Wildlife Service’s Urban Conservation Treaty for Migratory Birds.

Full funding for this program is supported by a Grant Agreement from the U.S. Department of the Interior, Fish and Wildlife Service. Mention of trade names or commercial products does not constitute their endorsement by the U.S. Government.

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