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Updated: Mar 9, 2021

Whether you’re a birding newbie or a longtime “bird nerd” like me, you probably know that all birds have common needs for food, water, and cover for protection. However, over time birds have developed an incredible variety of adaptations to help them survive in just about any type of environment. That means that within any given area, different species of birds take advantage of different sources of food and cover. As a birder, you can follow habitat clues to both find and identify more species of birds, no matter where you are. When you first arrive at a new location, take some time to scan your surroundings before you set out looking for birds. What broad categories of habitat do you see? Are there woodlands, or wetlands? Sandy beaches, or coastal prairie? Or perhaps a combination? You get the idea.

Now, take a closer look. If there is water, is it fresh water or salt water? Shallow, or deep? Does it have a flow, or is it stagnant? Use these clues to help you narrow down the number of species you consider when trying to identify a bird. For example, imagine you see a bird foraging by diving repeatedly in shallow, fresh water with muddy banks. When you check your field guide or app, you can automatically eliminate any species that require deep salt water with a strong current. It is more likely to be a Pied-billed Grebe than a Common Loon.

Pied-billed Grebe
Pied-billed Grebe