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Pick Six: Become a better birder

Become a better birder

Here are six things you can do to help improve your birding skills.

6.  Pick a specific family of birds

Say Warblers or Waterfowl.  Make a list of each species in the selected family of birds.  Mark off the ones you know and study the ones you need to learn more about.  You can study the range maps in a printed guide or on the Birdzilla web site.

5.  Read the notes in the field guides.

Many birders just look at the images and miss the tips in the written descriptions.


American Robin is Delaware state bird

4. Pay attention to a bird’s general shape and posture.

Does it have a thin or robust body?  Do the wing tips extend beyond the tip of the tail, etc.   Is it more often seen in an upright posture, like owls, or more of a horizontal posture, as with the waterthrushes?

Also note the birds behavior, for some species this can be a great aid in identification.  The bobbing motion of a Spotted Sandpiper or the tail-flicking of an Eastern Phoebe are great clues to their identity, as examples.

3. Pick a song or call you do not know and learn it.

Proceed at your own pace but stay consistent.  One new song a week is fine if you stay after it.  The Bird Guides has songs and calls of over 500 species.

Start with birds like warblers, orioles, buntings and sparrows.

2. Note seasonal variations and preferred positioning within the bird’s preferred habitat.

Does the birds prefer to be low on the ground, in open fields, in the middle of a tree, on the side of a tree, etc. Become aware of migration patterns.

1. Go birding!

The best way to improve your birding skills is to spend time in the field with other birders.  Most states have an ornithological society that holds one or two meetings a year, usually in different parts of the state.  Don’t let the big name fool you, they are mostly birders and love to have birders on their field trips at any skill level.

  • Local Audubon societies often offer birding field trips.
  • Birding festivals are popular in many areas.
  • Or just get out on your own, visiting different habitats at different times of the year.

Another great resource is the state section of this web site.  Select your state from the drop down list on the left and you’ll be able to see a mini-guide for your state.  Each guide has 50 common birds for the selected state.


About the Author

Sam Crowe

Sam is the founder of He has been birding for over 30 years and has a world list of over 2000 species. He has served as treasurer of the Texas Ornithological Society, Sanctuary Chair of Dallas Audubon, Editor of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology's "All About Birds" web site and as a contributing editor for Birding Business magazine. Many of his photographs and videos can be found on the site.

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