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Top 10: Most Common Bird Identification Questions


We receive thousands of images to identify each year, sent to our web site.  These birds represent 10 of the most often asked about species.


1. Female Red-winged Blackbird:

We receive a few images of the males but females, much more sparrow-like in appearance, confuse many people.



2. Female Brown-headed Cowbird

Another species with the females much more difficult to identify.  Plain gray-brown birds can be tough.



3.  Rose-breasted Grosbeak, both male and female.

The males are distinctive but show up at feeders during spring migration and are a very common question, females even more so.

Rose-breasted Grosbeak.yellow.Gary Wells.1

This male had an unusual yellow breast instead of the typical rose color.

Rose-breasted Grosbeak female

Photograpoh by Vikki LaValle.  Female Rose-breasted Grosbeak.


4.  Cooper’s Hawk

Both Adults and Juveniles.
There medium-sized raptors often found around bird feeders or in suburban yards and are reported much more often than the similar but smaller Sharp-shinned Hawk.  They are by far the most common raptor submitted to

Coopers Hawk

Adult Cooper’s. Photograph by JC.


Coopers Hawk juvenile

Juvenile Cooper’s.  Photograph by Jim Hottel.


5.  Red-tailed Hawk

Both adult and immatures.
The Red-tailed Hawk is large, wide-spread and common in many areas.  It’s plumage is also highly variable, making identification a challenge.

Red-tailed Hawk
Not all Red-tailed Hawks are this easy to identify.


6.  House Finch

Both male and female.
We receive more images of the females but both are commonly submitted for identification.

House Finch


7.  Black-crowned Night-Heron

Both adults and juveniles.
This is a large, wide-spread species.  Juveniles can be very nondescript in appearance and hard to identify.  Here is a comparison page.  See if you agree that these are all Black-crowned Night-Herons.  Pay particular attention to the bill size and shape.


Photograph by Pat.


Adult. Photograph by Sam Crowe.

Black-crowned Night-Heron

Photograph by Harriet Moore.

Yellow-Black-crowned Night-Heron

Photograph by Don Rucker.


8.  Young American Robins

Each spring we receive numerous images of juvenile American Robins.  Their speckled chest causes confusion.


Photograph by Tasha-Bryant.


We often receive images of birds with atypical plumages, like this partially leucistic robin. Photograph by Melodie C.


9.  Dark-eyed Junco

Juncos are wide spread and common.  They migrate into southern states in the winter, resulting in an increase in requests for identification.  There are also several races with different plumages, previously consider separate species, and this often leans to confusion.  These are all Dark-eyed Juncos.


Photograpoh by Steve Brown.


Photograph by Gary Lane.


Photograph by Sue Vasey.

Dark-eyed Junco

Photograph by Bill Ryan.


10.  Eastern Phoebe

Another plain gray bird. Eastern Phoebes will nest under the eves of homes and are often otherwise visible in neighborhoods.
They are not strongly marked. They give a strong “phoebe” call, making them easy to identify by voice.

Eastern Phoebe

Photograph by Gail Crissinger.

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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