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How to identify birds

Little owl in tree

Image: Graham Catley

You don't need to know anything about birds to enjoy watching them. Whether you're watching small birds coming to your bird table, or big birds of prey soaring hundreds of feet above your head, birds are everywhere - they are interesting to watch and provide pleasure for many people.

It's a natural progression to go from enjoying watching a bird going about its business to asking yourself 'what kind of bird is it?' If you flip through the pages of a bird book or browse our A-Z pages, you'll see there are many different species in Britain (and more than 10,000 worldwide!).

Contrary to popular belief, you don't need expensive equipment or expert knowledge. The most important 'tools' are your eyes, ears and brain! All the other things are optional. 

By following simple guidelines and principles, you can learn to identify any bird you come across. Every bird you see is different in some way and, if you want to, you can spend a lifetime learning about them. 

These pages provide useful tips to help get you started. But the most important thing to remember is to enjoy watching and listening.

How you can help

Not sure what that bird is?

Try our online bird identifier

What to look for

There are a number of features that you will need to make a note of to help your identification. More...

What to look for

Tips and tricks

Here are some tips to help you identify the birds you see. Remember, the more birds you look at, the better you will get at identifying them. More...

Tips and tricks

Useful kit

The only essential pieces of equipment you need to enjoy watching and identifying birds are your eyes and ears (and there are plenty of hearing- and visually-impaired people who enjoy birds, too). More...

Useful kit

Difficult species

Some birds are easier to identify than others! Here are our tips on how to separate some of the trickier birds you might see in the UK. More...

Difficult species

Abnormal feather colouring

Feather colouration in birds is produced by a number of means. From time to time, the mechanism that produces normal colouration breaks down, resulting either in lack of colour or too much of it. These pages describe these abnormal colourations. More...

Abnormal feather colouring

Hummingbirds and hawkmoths

One of the most remarkable cases of mistaken identity in the animal world in the British Isles involves a large but unassuming moth. Every year many people are taken back as they see in their garden what appears at first sight to be a hummingbird hovering at the flowers. A careful look unmasks this imposter as a hummingbird hawk moth. More...

Hummingbirds and hawkmoths