• BirdForum is the net's largest birding community dedicated to wild birds and birding, and is absolutely FREE!

    Register for an account to take part in lively discussions in the forum, post your pictures in the gallery and more.

Sexual bias and photo IDs (1 Viewer)

Deb Burhinus

Used to be well known! 😎
Now that’s probably got your attention ;), the two issues aren’t linked (or one would hope not!) and not sure why there is an exclaimation mark :eek!:

ID forums

Experienced birders can do more imo

I would suggest that 2 initial confirmation posts in response to an ID request is adequate, unless the ID is being contested with clear reasons why, or further explaination is given for the original 2-3 confirmations’. Follow up repeated ‘agree’, ‘100% ...’, or simply repeating the species name, imo, does little to help the OP gain further knowledge or assist in helping to separate possible confusion species when they face them in the field. If anything it could have a negative impact by making the OP feel inadequate or even bullied into accepting an ID when they still have questions or are interested in further discussion

I would suggest the following:

- New or unexperienced birders (or any birder with little or no experience with a particular species) may learn more by requesting the salient points visible in the photo with reference to plumage and structure and those features (if appropriate) that separate the OPs sp. from another or simply characterise the OPs sp. giving reference too to behaviour and habitat if noted by OP.

- If the OP is still unconvinced, and are brave enough to give reasons why they are struggling, then those reasons need to be responded to - otherwise, well we have seen it, frequent ID requests from the same birders for the same species will keep popping up on the ID forums because IDs end up being accepted by the OP based simply on the number of posters or a perceived view (at times misplaced!) on the field ‘experience’ of the species by the posters offering contesting opinions, rather than an understanding on how he or she can arrive at the ID themselves.

- distant raptors and other blobs!

If you have time to take a photo, you have time to look at the bird. If not, look at the bird instead and I mean, really look (and listen!) You may ‘miss’ this one but the information you take in will be invaluable in indentifying the species next time. A poor and distance raptor image tells you less about structure, flight pattern and size than you could identify to a particular species in the field with more skill. Even with brief and distant views valuable information can be lost when taking a photo. Make immediate field notes! I promise the learning curve will be much steeper. When I look back on my fieldnotes from 20 years ago, I can identify species from them that I couldnt ID at the time and so just ‘let go’. If it’s the possibility of a rarity you are after with a poor record shot instead of a solid in the field ID supported by fieldnotes, believe me, in the long run, you are far more likely to even find a rarity by looking more and snapping less!

Avoid sexual bias in the field

This may sound a little out there but it works! When I first started birding I would ignore any female of the species (unless unwittingly I didn’t because plumage was very similar to male), I skimmed over drakes in eclipse, young birds with female type plumage. I focused on the easy to identify adult male plumage because like many nature enthusiasts, colour is always an inspiring motivation for our interests. Because my focus was on plumage colours, including bare parts, with only subsidiary attention to structure, my progress was initially slower than it could have been.

Birds molt, they stand in mud, light, distance and other environmental factors all effect a given plumage observation at a given time.

Once I realised this and started to focus more on structure as my initial field obs, (instead of getting hung up with plumage features,) ie bill shape/length, wing shape/primary projection, tail length etc separating buntings from finches, pipits from larks, falcons from acciptors, buteos from aquilas etc became much more straight forward. Further identification within each family then becomes much easier when it comes to female types, abberrant or untimely molts, muddy birds, distant birds and even separating possible rarities from more common confusion species.

Avoiding sexual bias in the field will make you a better birder, really!


Well-known member
My rationale for bare bones responses to ID requests is that once the OP has the answer he can head for the internet and learn all there is to know about the bird, including ID points. Then there’s the subset of posters who are primarily photograpers with no real interest in the birds themselves but just want labels for their photographs.
Last edited:


Well-known member
if i may add as a beginner that has asked for ID on common, to most, birds such as female house sparrow as against tree sparrows and female chaffinch, the learning curve at the beginning is quite steep. many here will be a long time past that and recognise through that quality i believe is called 'jizz'.

i have observed and enjoyed birds all my life and could say i know them but didnt know their names. that is a small point but then add behaviour to it and you get an exciting interest long before 'ticks' and 'lifers' come into play.

then you get what Deb mentioned, females, and also immatures, and ID becomes quite problematic. behaviour and inter-relationship in a 'family' is of interest as is feed and habitat.

before i get too complex in this, i would add to Deb's comments that the point of ID that for you may be unconscious become part of your ID statement. as an example there was today a photo of an immature starling. i managed to notice black legs, what looked like eyebrow but may have been light reflection and a speckling and approximate size. nothing said starling to me, so i was wondering if it was a fieldfare in shadow that had lost its tail to a predator!

what are the key points that say 'starling'. i think i can even see 'attitude' in its position that says starling but that is after thought.

it would be very helpful if key points were added to ID. i know some do this where point of difference between types is required but it would help beginners to get that included and many ID requests come from beginners. thank you.

Farnboro John

Well-known member
While entirely agreeing that structure is a useful thing to be able to assess and use as part of the ID process, I think there is in fact a lot to be said for learning birds sizes, shapes and relative features to others while using specimens whose identity is (reasonably) obvious: hence concentrating on males and bright plumages which easily signpost ID allows the absorption by osmosis of the more jizzy features, so that when a less obvious plumage is encountered, the structure is positively embedded in the mind.

It also increases the sense of achievement and emphasises the personal journey that birding gives us all. Not that there's anything wrong with asking someone else (especially when you aren't completely sure, and I hope that applies to us old and hairy/hairless birders as much as early learners) but its really satisfying to work something out for yourself.



Well-known member
thank you John. i try but the books and websites are often not a lot of help. colour is often different, for example my greenfinches did not look green until one day in a particular light i was able to be sure after many backlit glimpses. the flash of colour on the wing was also very subdued.

i do take your point as it was observation over weeks before i realised the differences of beak and behaviour allowed ID of dunnocks. i had thought they were mutated sparrows ... and female chaffinches and female housesparrows took a while before i recognised the pattern differences. i think you are saying there are no shortcuts? you are also correct about the sense of reward from learning for yourself. i was very pleased to be able with some certainty to identify a couple of birds for others from my own learning.

Mark Lew1s

My real name is Mark Lewis
I totally agree that it's useful for the experienced contributors to give some details that would help others. However, the best advice I could give someone who wanted to learn how to ID birds would be to be patient. There is no substitute for taking your time and working these things out for yourself. Walk away from some IDs - or even watch the birds without trying to ID them at all. Your brain will eventually sort things into the relevant 'categories' whether you know what names to give them or not.


Give me just one clear photo.
As a beginner who is primarily out and about to take wildlife photographs which is my hobby rather than going out specifically to spot birds, I am trying to learn the names of the wildlife I take photos of, In the field I have book and a bird id app which is great as it starts with what it looks like such as tit like or wader like or goose like and such, it really helps in the field but once home I research on the laptop and try to remember so I can id it again and recognise the subtle differances, I find learning flight patterns and wing shape is helping me identify birds of prey and is now allowing me to judge where they are going to fly next so allows me to position myself for a better attempt of photographing.
Only last week at my first trip to Dungeness I photographed a goose myself and my more knowledgeable wife did not know, after 10 mins on the internet it was an Egyptian goose. I them started looking at male/female/plummage differences and will try to take pictures in different light to see how that effects the plumage.
I try not to ask on forums as sometimes the answers can make you feel a bit stupid when it's a very common bird or some answers can seem a bit too harsh and deter from asking again, although this forum does seem a lot more friendly than most and I will not hesitate when I find a species I can not identify after research.
Last edited:

Paul Longland

Well-known member
In respect of the OP's point I totally agree that when opining an ID in response to a request it is always helpful if reasons are given. Admittedly the occasional "I agree" or similar especially when coming from one of the seasoned posters on the ID forum can be a useful corroboration of the initial ID.

As has been pointed out here, many of those that post requests on the ID forum are newbies to the hobby (this can often be seen by their low number of posts) and even on occasion a first post, so we should always be civil and never derisory when answering such a request concerning a common species. Remember once upon a time we all saw our very first example of a relatively common bird especially if in an unfamiliar habitat or region etc. We should also remember that what may be common for some locations is a relative rarity for others and so on.

With females, juveniles, moulting and other variations that occur (not even going into hybrids)- I gave up on juv. gulls many years ago, this can be a minefield for the inexperienced or unwary and I totally agree with the original point about "jizz" and structure, which a photograph cannot always capture. I would also add to that list the value of familiarizing oneself with calls and songs which can be an invaluable clue, or in some cases the only reliable way, to a positive ID.

Owen Krout

Registered User
Some very good points made here. I was drawn into the birding hobby through an interest in wildlife photography and even yet I am easily distracted from that elusive bird by other wildlife. Squirrel!;) or most recently, Siberian Weasel!

However I have learned that often I have to make the difficult decision, binoculars or camera and I agree that it is often better to make the binocular observation even if it means missing the photo that time. For one thing it encourages training oneself to quickly see the details and know what you are seeing. Then you can make better decisions as to whether it is worth the time and effort to work your way into where you can get that usable ID photo to verify a new tic or a better photo showing field marks for your collection or even just a more artistically pleasing image.

The distant blob doesn't have much value normally, however it is invaluable to have a usable image, even if not artistically acceptable, of that new tick or of that rare bird. A closer look at home can help to ID or at least help to teach you what to look for and can be especially useful in seeking help or confirmation of an ID. That being said though I will often snap a quick shot of something I am not sure of just in case it suddenly flies away and then work on better visual observation and working into a better ID photo position. Even that can serve to confirm that I did, or even did not, see what I thought I saw.

Users who are viewing this thread