How to Identify Birds in Your Yard

Author: Tammy Poppie
attract birds like white-breasted nuthatches with a peanut feeder

This post contains affiliate links, and we will be compensated if you buy after clicking on our links.

How to Identify Birds in Your Yard

Author: Tammy Poppie
attract birds like white-breasted nuthatches with a peanut feeder

This post contains affiliate links, and we will be compensated if you buy after clicking on our links.

Learn how to identify birds in your yard by focusing on two simple elements – location and characteristics. These two elements combined enable to you identify the bird much more quickly and easier. Then take these elements and reference a guidebook, app, or online resource to identify the bird quickly and easily.

In this article, I’ll explain in detail the two elements needed for bird identification. I’ll also explain the benefit of knowing about groups of birds in and around your yard. Finally, you’ll discover three main ways to identify the bird.

Two Elements That Enable You to identify Birds in your yard Quickly

The simplest way to identify birds in your yard is to note two elements.

  1. Location (e.g. identify birds by state)
  2. Characteristic (e.g. identify birds by color)

When you combine identifying birds by state (or other location) and at least one unique characteristic like the bird’s color, the possible species is narrowed significantly.


On The Feeder is focused on North American birds and primarily backyard birds. Given that, noting the location of the bird in question “by state” is usually sufficient. The state or province location is much like Goldilocks’ pursuits > not too large, not too small, but just right.

If you’re in Canada, noting the province is the way to go.

That said, sometimes you may be interested in broader locations such as North America, U.S., or Canada.


Characteristics can be something that describes a visual aspect of the bird, the bird’s behavior, or even a season of the year. The more unique the characteristic of the bird you wish to identify is from other birds, the easier it will be to identify it.

Visual Characteristics

Below are several common visual characteristics of birds:

  • Color (e.g. blue, red, yellow)
  • Size (e.g. tiny, small, medium, large)
  • Body part (e.g. head, wings, crown)

Behavioral Characteristics

Below are several common behavioral characteristics of birds:

  • Singing & Calling
  • Nesting
  • Fluffing Up
  • Migrating
  • Staying Still

Seasonal Characteristics

Below are seasonal characteristics:

  • Spring
  • Summer
  • Fall
  • Winter

When you combine more than one unique feature it just became a lot easier to narrow down the possible species.

Identify Birds in your yard by Location & Characteristic

When you combine location and characteristics, the job of identifying that bird has just become exponentially easier. Below are some common examples of combined locations and characteristics for bird identification:

  • Blue bird in Ohio
  • Red bird in Washington
  • Bird with orange beak in California

Identify Several Birds by Group

What if you’re not interested in identifying a specific bird species, but want to know about a group of birds such as those that are near you?

Knowing about the birds around you enables you to learn more about species you’ve not heard of or seen before. Because after all, you don’t know what you don’t know, until you know it!

For example, if you’ve never seen or heard of a pileated woodpecker you’d have no reason to identify it. But then you’d be missing out on knowing about North America’s largest species of woodpecker. From there you can begin to watch out for them or learn to attract them.

Below are examples of birds by groups:

OnTheFeeder prides itself on researching birds by location, characteristic, and even groups of birds to provide you with a comprehensive online resource.

By the way, here’s the pileated woodpecker I hope you see one day:

Male pileated woodpecker

Resources to Identify birds in your yard

Now that you’ve noted the location and unique characteristics, let’s explore the different ways to identify the species of that bird. There are 3 ways, they are:

  1. Guide Book
  2. Smartphone App
  3. Online Resource


We are so lucky because there are many, many guidebooks available to identify birds in your yard. They’re chocked full with detailed information about the birds and at least one color photo. Sometimes the guidebook will have sketches instead of photos but these are often enough to match the bird you’re interested in.

Guidebooks are published by location. The offerings start broad and get more specific such as by continent, then country, then state such as North American > United States > Wisconsin.

I like to go to my local library and check out the selection of books. When I find one that I think is amazing I will buy it. There are online merchants (anyone heard of Amazon?) or a local retail bookstore.

Guidebooks are usually arranged by color or bird category. I love the ones by color because that is the easiest characteristic to identify in a bird. If you see a blue bird, go to the section of blue birds and flip through. You’re likely to see the very species you’ve spotted!

One of my favorite backyard bird guidebooks is National Geographic’s Backyard Guide to the Birds of North America. (affiliate)

Smartphone App

identify birds with app

There’s an app for that! Sound familiar? Nowadays you can get an app to help you with just about anything. There are even some really great apps to identify birds in your yard. Most are available in both Android and iOS (iPhone) operating systems. Some apps are free while others charge a fee.

Below are some popular free apps:

  • eBird
  • Merlin
  • Audubon Bird Guide

Online Resource

on the feeder logo

My favorite way to identify birds in my yard is by using an online resource like But – I may be biased though (you think?).

I research and write comprehensive articles to help you identify birds in your yard. The articles enable you to identify birds by location or identify birds by color.

There are plenty of other amazing online resources. Just do a Google search that combines the location and/or characteristics such as “blue bird in Wisconsin” or “birds with orange beaks“.


There is no shortage of resources to help you identify backyard birds. But first, you need to note the location and characteristic or characteristics related to the bird, season, or behavior.

With the location and bird color, you can use a guidebook for your state to identify the bird.

With a smartphone app, you can identify the bird by sound or color, or other characteristics.

With a good old-fashioned Google search, you can get straight to an online resource that tells you what bird you spotted. is one of the best online resources for bird identification (Hey, if I don’t toot my own horn, who will?).

Happy Birding!

More than 25 years ago, Tammy put her first bird feeder outside her kitchen window. Since then she learned how to attract wild birds to her backyard. Studying the meaning & symbolism of wild birds is also a passion of hers. Read more about Tammy

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