The Universal ID Chart
What’s that bird?

No matter how experienced we are there are still birds out there that give us problems when it comes to deciding what we’ve seen hunkered down in a bush or on a distant mudflat. If you manage to identify that tricky little brown job where does it go on your list? Most of us birders seem to have a blind spot with one bird family or another… many people, for example, finding identifying waders particularly difficult.

The following links should help you decide on both.

Whilst we vary in skill none of us are perfect… a while back discussions on a birding chatline revealed just how bad some mistakes can be.

Not only have I identified a paper bag as a water rail, but I have identified a golden eagle as a black rubbish sack and a barn owl as a discarded plastic carrier bag. I even called out to my wife in Australia that just off the road were a small party of e-mails… that should have come out as emu!

For some people, no matter how distinctive the bird, nor how often they have seen it ID is still an issue.

I remember being in a boat on Caroni Swamp in Trinidad surrounded by Scarlet Ibis – surely one of the most distinctive birds in the world. An American lady kept saying “…what’s that big red bird again?

Beware, entering some of these links can seriously enhance your knowledge!

Useful Reading
  • Advanced Bird ID Guide: The Western Palearctic

    | By Nils Van Duivendijk | New Holland Publishers | 2010 | Paperback | 308 pages | 10 line drawings | ISBN: 9781847736079 Buy this book from
  • Better Birding

    | (Tips, Tools & Concepts for the Field) | By George L Armistead & Brian L Sullivan | Princeton University Press | 2015 | Paperback | 318 pages, 850 colour photos, 4 colour maps | ISBN: 9780691129662 Buy this book from
  • Bird Identification - a Reference Guide

    | by Kristian Adolfsson & Stefan Cherrug | Skanes Ornitologiska Forening | 1995 | Paperback | 379 pages, c.100 illustrations | ISBN: 9789186572242 Buy this book from
  • Birds: ID Insights:

    | (Identifying the more difficult birds of Britain) | By Dominic Couzens | Bloomsbury Publishing | 2014 | Hardback | 272 pages, 1000 colour illustrations | ISBN: 9781472909831 Buy this book from
  • Flight Identification of European Passerines and Select Landbirds

    | by Tomasz Cofta | WildGuides | 2021 | Flexibound | 496 pages, 2400 colour photos, 850 colour illustrations | ISBN: 9780691177571 Buy this book from
  • Hawks at a Distance

    | (Identification of Migrant Raptors) | By Jerry Liguori | Princeton University Press | 2011 | Paperback | 192 pages, 558 colour photos, b/w illustrations, tabs | ISBN: 9780691135595 Buy this book from
  • Identification Guide to Birds in the Hand

    | By Laurent Demongin | Laurent Demongin | 2016 | Paperback | 392 pages, b/w photos, b/w illustrations, tables | ISBN: 9782955501900 Buy this book from
  • Kaufman Field Guide to Advanced Birding

    | (Understanding What You See and Hear) | by Kenn Kaufman | Houghton Mifflin | 2011 | Paperback | 448 pages, Colour Illustration | ISBN: 9780547248325 Buy this book from
  • Peterson Guide to Bird Identification – in 12 Steps

    | By Steve NG Howell & Brian L Sullivan | Houghton Mifflin Harcourt | 2018 | Hardback | 152 pages, 85 colour photos, b/w illustrations | ISBN: 9781328662064 Buy this book from
  • RSPB Guide to Birdwatching

    | (A Step-by-Step Approach) | by Mike Unwin | Christopher Helm | 2008 | Paperback | 176 pages, colour illustrations | ISBN: 9780713679434 Buy this book from
  • The Art of Bird Identification

    | By Peter Dunne | Stackpole Books | 2012 | Paperback | 135 pages, 39 colour photos, 6 colour illustrations | ISBN: 9780811731966 Buy this book from
  • The Crossley ID Guide: Eastern Birds

    | By Richard Crossley | Princeton University Press | 2011 | Paperback | ISBN: 9780691147789 Buy this book from
  • The Crossley ID Guide: Raptors

    | By Richard Crossley, Jerry Liguori & Brian L Sullivan | Princeton University Press | 2013 | Paperback | 304 pages, 101 plates with colour photos; 34 colour distribution maps | ISBN: 9780691157405 Buy this book from
  • The Handbook of Bird Identification

    | (for Europe and the Western Palearctic) | by Mark Beaman & Steve Madge | Christopher Helm | 1998 | Hardback | 868 pages, 357 plates with colour illustrations, 625 colour distribution maps | ISBN: 9780713639605 Buy this book from
  • The Helm Guide to Bird Identification

    | (An In-Depth Look at Confusion Species) | By Keith Vinicombe | Christopher Helm | 2014 | Paperback | 396 pages, plates with colour illustrations | ISBN: 9781408130353 Buy this book from
  • The Sibley Guide to Birdlife & Behaviour

    | by David Allen Sibley | Knopf Publishing Group | 2009 | Paperback | 608 pages, 550 colour illustrations, b/w illustrations, colour distribution maps | ISBN: 9781400043866 Buy this book from
  • The Tracks and Signs of the Birds of Britain and Europe

    | (An Identification Guide) | By Roy Brown, John Ferguson, Michael F Lawrence & David Lees | Christopher Helm | 2003 | Edition 2 | Paperback | 333 pages, 56 colour plates, b/w photos, line illustrations | ISBN: 9780713653823 Buy this book from
Forums & Mailing Lists
  • ABA Identification

    Quizzes, challenges and more...
  • Advanced Bird ID

    Facebook Page
    Join this group to post and comment.
  • Bird Identification Q&A

    Hi and and a warm welcome to the very friendly Surfbirds Bird Forums. If this is your first visit, please be sure to check out the FAQ . You will need to register before you can post and see photos: click the Login/Sign Up in the top right of this page. To start viewing messages, select the forum that you want to visit from the selection below.
  • Bird Identification Q&A

  • ID-Frontiers

    Mailing List
    Discussion about highly difficult bird identification issues, mostly related to North America. subscription message: subscribe BIRDWG01 Your Name
  • RSPB _ Identify this...

    Seen something weird and don't know what it is? Post your description or photo here and we'll try to help!
Other Links
  • BirdID

    BirdID Home Page - Birds Quick Start News About us Privacy policy Training Quiz To The Training Quiz About the training quiz Competition groups BirdID's Bird Guide BirdID's Bird Guide Study Join the field study in WP Apply for birdID in WP Getting the most from the BirdID website Exam Exam information Apply for exam My Profile About the new login system feather Map of Europe Welcome to BirdID 'Bird Identification' is a website for anyone who wants to learn more about birds and wants to gain formal evidence of their developing skills. Here you can choose to take an exam on the birds in your own country or for the whole Western Palearctic, and receive a valid certificate at higher education level. You can also choose to join our field study trips in the Western Palearctic or study the birds yourself by using our training quiz.
  • Bob Lewis's Gull Site

    Gulls are one of the last frontiers of bird identification, and I have been a certified gull freak for 20 years. I have long felt that gulls are the most interesting of all birds. True, Peregrine Falcons, Golden Eagles, and Elegant Trogons have their allures, but nothing combines for me the intellectual and aesthetic qualities of birding better than gulls, especially the large white headed Herring Gull assemblage. Add to that the fact that an amateur like me can get decent photos of them -- without getting seasick -- and you've got an unbeatable combination. Parked at Cape Point in a four wheel drive vehicle with a couple thousand gulls standing around, on a cold cloudy day with the wind howling -- that's as close to paradise as it gets.
  • Caluta

    Photos and sound recordings of many Eurasian species.
  • Gadwall Birding Page

    Identifying birds is tough. It`s tough for experienced birders and it`s even tougher for new birders. Birds have a variety of different plumages including: winter, summer, juvenile, first spring, male, female, eclipse and combinations thereof. Plus they molt. So don`t feel bad if you can`t identify every bird you see. On the other hand, learning those different plumage patterns, and the other clues that help identify birds, is what makes this hobby fun.
  • Gull Identification Website

    These pages are dedicated to those rakish scavengers from the north (okay, some are from the south): gulls! gulls! gulls! Many breed in remote locales, migrate great distances, and, in winter, form the most coveted phenomenon that birders hope for: mixed species flocks
  • ID Frontier

    Presented here is a photographic guide to many of the birds of the South-eastern U.S. The geographic area covered by this guide includes the following states: Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, and the south-eastern part of Texas.
  • Identification of Caspian Gull

    This article describes the identification of Caspian Gull, a bird that occurs regularly at inland rubbish tips and gull roosts, but is perhaps under-recorded due to limited awareness of identification criteria
  • Ocean Wanderers - Angus Wilson

    Welcome! This site is dedicated to spreading information about bird identification, migration, systematics and conservation. There is likely to be heavy emphasis on the seabirds (shearwaters, petrels, albatrosses etc.); gulls and shorebirds (waders) of the world, however a few passerines might squeak in!
  • Ornithology

    Most useful for N Americans
  • Raptor Identification

    A building resource to give extensive, detailed and updated information about the identification of European raptors.
  • Smithsonian Institution

    Ornithological database - Search the Division of Birds Collections
  • SurfBirds ID Articles

    Advanced articles as well as basics
  • The Birds of North America

    In two centuries of American ornithology, The Birds of North America (BNA) is only the fourth comprehensive reference covering the life histories of North America
  • VIREO - Visual Resources for Ornithology - The Academy of Natural Sciences

    Bird photographs from around the world. Images of all North American birds and half of the world's bird species. Pictures from some of the best bird photographers worldwide
  • What Bird

  • What Bird Is This?

    Everyone who loves nature should easily find the species of animal or plant he/she has seen. Have you seen a beautiful bird you do not know? Do you wonder what bird it is? Exactly for that purpose has been built...
  • Wild Waterfowl of the World

    List of websites etc

Fatbirder - linking birders worldwide... Wildlife Travellers see our sister site: WAND

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