Sometimes I get asked how I was able to identify a certain bird, or how I knew what I was looking at. Heck, a lot of the time I ask myself how I’m supposed to identify many species. While there is no real one way to become a better birder, the age-old saying ‘practice makes perfect’ can certainly apply.
For me, this means spending a lot of time studying various field guides. I get to know my local species well by spending about ten minutes every morning looking at my field guide. Ten minutes every morning before school or before work, just while eating breakfast, that’s all it takes. A little while after I started this, I found myself identifying birds more easily because I knew what I was looking for. And once you know what to look for, the tricky species won’t be nearly as tricky!
For example in this photo of a Clay-colored Sparrow we can see the two light-colored arcs above and below the eye and a dark eyeline. Once we know to look for these, identifying a Clay-colored Sparrow will be somewhat easier. Though, mind you, it’s not quite as simple as that! We can always confuse species with one another but like I have said, knowing your locals really helps, and once you’ve spent some time with your field guide, you then need to spend some time in the field; practice makes perfect! See if reading a field guide while you eat breakfast every morning helps with your identification skills!