Birding Basics

When is the best time to go birding?

Birds are around all year, and your field guide offers tips on the species most likely encountered in various seasons and at certain times of the day. Many birds are most active during early morning and evening. Hawks can be seen at mid-day, and owls require nighttime birding.

How do I go birding?

Look, listen, and move slowly and quietly. If you hear a sound or notice movement, your goal is to locate, identify, and observe the bird without frightening it away. Move slowly and silently. Signs of alarm in birds – such as a freeze in posture, a cocked head, or a half-raising of the wings – tell you to stop moving or back away until the bird calms down.

What should I wear?

Dull colors such as muted greens, browns and grays are best. Wear layers for warmth and avoid rustling fabrics, loud zippers, and velcro! Waterproof shoes are ideal for forests, fields, and for crossing streams.

What tools do I need for birding?

Field guide, binoculars, local bird lists, and an experienced birding partner are all excellent tools. Practice using the tools by spotting birds at our birdfeeders before going out into the field.

Bird Identification Clues


An important characteristic when identifying birds is their size. It may help to select five or six common birds of varying sizes (for example, the black capped chickadee, American robin, American crow, red-tailed hawk, and great blue heron), then use these to gauge the size of other birds you see.


Look at the bird’s shape to get clues for identification: Is its body compact and stocky, or slender? Is its neck long or short? What about its legs? Is its bill short, long or hooked? Are its wings long and pointed, or rounded? Is its tail short, long, squared at the tip, notched, forked, rounded, or pointed?

Color & Pattern

Be sure to note the overall color of head, throat, breast, wings and tail. Just as critical, examine the eyebrows, eye rings, eye lines, or mustaches on a bird’s head. Look for wing bands, striping or patterns on the breast, back and tail. And don’t forget to notice the color of its legs.


The way birds walk, perch or fly can lend a clue to their identity. Behaviors can be obvious or subtle. Does it bob its head or tail? Flick its wings? Stay on the ground? Fly in a straight line or in a bobbing manner? All of these are important clues.

Vocal Clues

Since birds aren’t always seen at first, listen for songs or calls. A birding app on your mobile device can help you identify songs and calls.

Habitat & Range

Knowing which species occupies a habitat can save a lot of time when identifying. Check the description in the field guide to see if the bird is supposed to be there!