Identifying birds is a skill, but one that anyone can practice (and believe me, you never stop practicing). Here are some things to look for if you see a mystery bird in your yard:
1. Size: Don't worry about getting the ruler out. Compare the bird to one you already know - so is it as big as a Magpie or the size of a House Sparrow? This then gives you a ball park range to look at when you are checking in a field guide.
2. Shape: Look at the outline - what does the shape remind you of? Think about how you know an owl is an owl or a duck is a duck - there is a certain shape that each of these have that indicate the type of birds they are.
3. Colours/markings: Colour can be tricky in shadows but look for the major colours and features that jump out at you. A stripe over the eye? Bright colour on the chest? Spots on the wings? Of course watch the bird for as long as you can, but don't think you have to memorise every single colour. In fact, if you are using a Bird Finder on our website, the Aussie Backyard Bird Count app or in a field guide app, it is better to put fewer colours in than more as if you get one wrong, you may cut your bird out of the possibles list.
4. Behaviour: How does it move and does it do anything quirky? Some birds have very distinct ways of flying (e.g. a Rainbow Lorikeet flies like a bullet, a Yellow-tailed Black-Cockatoo has a long, slow and loping flight) and lots of birds display other quirks (like a Spotted dove will flick its tail when it lands)
Taking note of these 4 points will help you not only when you attempt to ID the bird by looking in a field guide, app or our Bird Finder - but, once you know the bird, pull them together and you will only need to notice 1 or 2 of them to know exactly what your bird is. Getting a feel for the bird will come easily to you in no time.
Of course these tips don't include IDing by call - which is a whole other skill set, but at least use calls as an idea of where you can go to get a look at your mystery bird.
Just have a try, and don't worry if you don't end up ID'ing the bird - just enjoy the experience! Remember you can also use the #WhatBirdisThat tag on social media or use the Contact Us section and send us a photo. We would be happy to try and solve the puzzle!
For more tips and tricks, check out Sean Dooley's Beginner Bird-watching session on the BirdLife Australia YouTube channel: https://youtube.com/watch?v=-s3FWhdH5Bs&t=6s