Join for FREE
It only takes a minute!
More discoveries. NEW: Zeiss Victory SF 32

Welcome to BirdForum.
BirdForum is the net's largest birding community, dedicated to wild birds and birding, and is absolutely FREE! You are most welcome to register for an account, which allows you to take part in lively discussions in the forum, post your pictures in the gallery and more.

When Trying to ID Do You Start With the FAMILY and Work Down?

Thread Tools Rate Thread
Old Wednesday 29th March 2017, 19:46   #1
Registered User

Join Date: Mar 2017
Location: Houston
Posts: 79
When Trying to ID Do You Start With the FAMILY and Work Down?

Hey all,

I am curious about what method you all use to ID birds that you don't know if you're alone and no mentor or group members around to help you.

Do you first try to narrow it down to the specific FAMILY and then try to get to the GENUS and then, eventually, to the Common Name?
I know there's quite a few Families to learn and know to do this method. It seems it would be a bit easier than trying to learn every bird in your region and its characteristics.

For those of you that don't know darn near every bird in the USA, how do you go about ID'ing a bird that you see and have no idea what it is? Do you have any kind of specific way to work towards a positive ID?


Thank you all.
MUHerd is offline  
Reply With Quote
Old Wednesday 29th March 2017, 20:10   #2
Registered User
Rapala's Avatar

Join Date: Jun 2013
Location: Michigan
Posts: 999
When faced with a difficult ID, I focus on certain aspects or the overall impression that I get from the bird. For example, bill shape and behavior give me clues as to the family, such as warblers vs sparrows and the like. From there I focus on finer aspects of the bird, such as plumage and coloration, to narrow down the bird to a species. So yes, I will generally narrow the bird down to a family, and then to a species from there.

Identifying birds is tricky, and I have learned it best through experience. The more time you can get familiarizing yourself with birds the better, and it will help you recognize different birds in the future.
A bird doesn't sing because it has an answer, it sings because it has a song. -Maya Angelou
Latest Lifer- Eastern Whip-poor-will
My Gallery

Last edited by Rapala : Wednesday 29th March 2017 at 20:18.
Rapala is offline  
Reply With Quote
Old Wednesday 29th March 2017, 20:20   #3
Speak softly and carry a long lens
nartreb's Avatar

Join Date: Jan 2013
Location: United States
Posts: 1,441
It's mostly - some birds are easy, some are hard. Family usually isn't my first stop: If it's a shorebird, I don't always know whether it's a plover or a sandpiper. If it's a small songbird, I may need to consider vireos, warblers, sparrows, buntings, etc, depending on color.

In other words, for an unfamiliar bird I'll usually start at Order, and if all else fails I'll check all the Families in the Order (though I usually will have an idea which Families I've had trouble with in the past). With any luck I don't need to check all the species in each Family; after checking a few species I'll usually have a decent idea of whether I'm getting close or should skip to a different Family. I don't pay much attention to genus. There's usually only a very few species of the same genus that are likely to be found in the same location, so genus isn't much of a "stop" in the process.

More often, when I see a bird, it's a commmon one, and I'll instantly recognize the species. Some birds are hard (warblers, vireos, sandpipers, gulls), but many are fairly straightforward, and there aren't as many of them as you might think.

edit to add: to get the Order, look at overall shape, behavior, flight style (beats per minute), size, habitat, beak shape if visible. raptor? wader? swimmer? diver? ground-scratcher? insect-catcher? berry-eater? high-percher? bush-lurker? brightly colored? Little Brown Job?

Last edited by nartreb : Wednesday 29th March 2017 at 20:25.
nartreb is offline  
Reply With Quote
Old Wednesday 29th March 2017, 21:42   #4
Forum Member

Join Date: Feb 2003
Posts: 15,685
I invariably approach unfamiliar birds taxonomically, family if I'm really at sea, genus more commonly.

Last edited by fugl : Wednesday 29th March 2017 at 22:57.
fugl is offline  
Reply With Quote
Old Thursday 30th March 2017, 15:06   #5
Larry Sweetland
Formerly 'Larry Wheatland'
Larry Sweetland's Avatar

Join Date: Aug 2005
Location: Bristol
Posts: 7,907
Agree with the above.

I also find it useful when faced with something confusing, to tell myself (preferably even saying it) everything I can see on it "live", going over the bird as quickly as possible before it flies away. Eg "ok, black legs, creamy greater covert wingbar, yellow breast merges into white belly but more olive on the flanks, dark bill...oh no...hang on.. it's got a pale pinkish base to the lower mandible" etc. With experience you get to know which parts of the bird are likely to be important to check once you've narrowed it down to family or genus.
Larry Sweetland is offline  
Reply With Quote
Old Thursday 30th March 2017, 19:06   #6
Registered User

Join Date: May 2004
Location: Banjica (part of Belgrade)
Posts: 753
I started by reading the field guide first (many times) and then I knew "what exists" and what page (or part of field guide) to go to when I see something unusual. There are certain groups of difficult species, generally on family level; in the field guide, shorebirds were generally between the other waterbirds and the landbirds, somewhere around the middle of the book, there are Old World Warblers somewhere at the third quarter of the book and buntings are in the back. (in the field guides I had then). Many groups were encountered one new species at the time; I don't know how those people who visit an unfamiliar part of the world deal with being dumped with 50-60 new species on the first day.
Birds recorded in Serbia in 2019 by eBird members:
Zheljko is offline  
Reply With Quote

Thread Tools
Rate This Thread
Rate This Thread:

Posting Rules
You may not post new threads
You may not post replies
You may not post attachments
You may not edit your posts

vB code is On
Smilies are On
[IMG] code is Off
HTML code is Off

Similar Threads
Thread Thread Starter Forum Replies Last Post
Field work ... hard work! ody Bird Forum Fun Quizzes 5769 Saturday 4th July 2020 12:57
The start of something new. Nest watcher Say Hello 5 Saturday 12th May 2012 22:19
To get a buzz from your summer, start work NOW! (RSPB) BF Newsroom Latest news from the RSPB 0 Tuesday 6th March 2012 08:10
Where to start socksitis Leica 5 Saturday 28th April 2007 13:01
How do I start? Angela Tips For New Birders 34 Monday 5th June 2006 13:03

Fatbirder's Top 1000 Birding Websites

Help support BirdForum

Page generated in 0.21146798 seconds with 20 queries
All times are GMT. The time now is 09:34.