Basic Bird Identification


Rare Bird Photos - Kern Specialties

California Nature Events & Festivals

California CBC's

Great Backyard Bird Count Online Bird Guide

Joe Morlan's California Birding Pages - An interactive map of  California with birding statistics, sites and other resources for all 58 California counties.

Patuxent Bird Identification InfoCenter US Geological Survey put this fantastic site together on bird identification.

eBird A site where you can record your bird sightings, a joint project of the National Audubon Society and Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology.

Kern County Birding by Michael McQuerrey - A listserve discussion group of Kern County Birding

CalBirds by Steve Sosensky - A listserve discussion of rare birds, birding events and other things significant to California birders

The Bird Digest by Dave Ranney - A digest of bird discussion around California.

Guide to some Birds of Kern County

Black-crowned Night-Heron

Great Blue Heron

Great Egret

Green Heron

Lark Sparrow

Exotic Bird Species

Eurasian Collared Dove - Streptopelia decaocto

European Starling - Sturnus vulgaris

House Sparrow - Passer domesticus

Ringed Turtle Dove - Streptopelia risoria

Rock Pigeon - Columba livia

Rose-ringed Parakeets - Psittacula krameri

Spotted Dove - Streptopelia chinensis


Kern Butterflies

Tulare Butterflies

Kern Dragonflies

Kern Fish

Kern Amphibians

Kern Reptiles

Kern Birds

Kern Mammals

Exotic Animals

Exotic Plants

Sensitive Species


Birds of Buena Vista Area   

Birds of the Kern River Parkway

Birds of Hart Park

Birds Of Pin Oak Park

Birds of the Kern National Wildlife Refuge

Birds of Pixley National Wildlife Refuge

Mammals of the Pixley National Wildlife Refuge

Mammals of the Kern National Wildlife Refuge


Kern Butterflies

Kern Dragonflies

Kern Fish

Kern River Valley Amphibians

Kern Reptiles and Amphibians

KRP Amphibians & Reptiles

Kern Birds

Kern Mammals

Kern River Watershed Rodents

Ferns of Kern

Kern Trees


Kern interior chaparral and woodlands

Great Basin Desert  

Valley Grassland

Mojave Desert

Sierran Forest


Trees of Kern County

Ferns of Kern County  

Flora of the Kern River Preserve


Bird Topography

Bird Topography defines landmarks on different species of birds. Ornithologists (bird researchers) have named each unique part or characteristic of birds. With so many species of birds to identify, the task is daunting for beginners and seasoned birders. Becoming comfortable with bird landmarks takes practice, but is necessary to identify specific species.

Bird Adaptations

Did you ever wonder why there are so many different shapes of bird beaks or feet? Beaks are multi-functional tools. Birds use them to weave nests, defend territory, attack competitors, groom feathers, communicate, and most important, to gather or capture food. The beak shape can tell you what a bird eats.

Feet also tell you a lot about a bird’s feeding behavior and also where the bird spends most of its time.

If you want to learn more about birds, pay attention to beaks and feet! Knowing these characteristics makes bird identification easy. To help you get started, here are some common bill shapes and the type of food each bill is specially adapted to eat.

Beaks (bills)


Birds eat almost every kind of food, but not all birds eat the same things. Your best clue as to what a bird eats is its bill. Bills are dining utensils. They work like hammers, chisels, pincers, nutcrackers, hooks, spears, or strainers.

Hummingbirds have long, tubular bills that resemble straws, which they use to sip nectar from flowers.

Flycatchers and goatsuckers have wide bills surrounded by a net of bristles that work to funnel flying insects into their mouths while in the air.
Woodpeckers have strong, long, chisel-like bills to make holes in trees for nests or food. 
Mergansers and herons have long bills with serrated edges and a hooked point, adapted for grabbing fish.
The edges of a duck's bill are fringed to strain plants, seeds, and small animals from mud and water.
Sparrows, finches and grosbeaks have thick, conical beaks, for cracking open the hard outer shells of seeds to reach the nutritious center.
Blackbirds, Warblers, and Meadowlarks use their long pointed bills to probe for insects.
Hawks and eagles tear prey, such as mice, into bite-sized pieces with their strong, hooked bills.
Many shore birds, avocets, and stilts have long, thin probing bills. These bills come in a variety of sizes to jab at different depths in the muck. This allows many species to live together within their own niche without directly competing for food



Feet carry birds to their food and some help deliver food to the bird. They are designed for running, perching, grasping, wading, paddling and even more.

To hold onto a twig, a passerine bird needs feet with opposing toes that wrap around the branch. Why don't perching birds fall off when they sleep? When a perching bird sits, a ligament in its feet automatically locks on the limb. With feet locked, sleeping birds don't fall. As the bird stands up the ligaments release.

Semi-aquatic Birds
Rails have special lobed feet that help them walk on top of marsh vegetation. These birds are not confined to water and walk on dry land quite well.
Long-legged birds can wade in shallow water to reach prey buried in muddy marshes. The long toes of herons and egrets support walking on mucky stream and lake bottoms.
Birds with webbed feet can paddle through the water and walk on mud. The web spreads out when pushing the foot backward providing more surface to thrust the water. When the foot is drawn forward the web folds up so there is less resistance to the water.
In open grasslands, most species walk or hop on the ground to find food.
Parrots and woodpeckers use their zygodactyl feet to climb up walls and trees. Parrots use their nimble toes to hold food and bring it to the beak. 
Hawks and owls capture, kill, and carry prey with their feet. Their recurved talons are distinctive. Owl feet are special because they can rotate one toe toward the back making them zygodactyl at will.
Partridges, pheasants, and quail use their strong feet to scratch the dirt and leaf litter to uncover seeds and insects.

Glossary of Bird Terms

Alternate - Non-breeding plumage in birds with 2-molts /year

Anisodactyl - refers the position of the toes - 3-face forward and 1-faces back. Most common

Basic - Breeding plumage.

Coverts - The small feathers covering the bases of other, usually larger, feathers.

Crest - A tuft of elongated feathers on the crown.

Crown - The uppermost surface of the head.

Eye-ring - A fleshy or feathered ring around the eye.

Eye-stripe - A stripe running horizontally from the base of the bill through the eye.

Flight Feathers - The long feathers of the wing and tail used for flight. The flight feathers of the wing are composed of primaries, secondaries, and tertials.

Lore - The area between the base of the bill and eye.

Mandible - One of the two parts (upper and lower) of a bird's bill.

Mantle - The back and the upper wing surfaces.

Mask - An area of contrasting color on the front of the face and around the eyes.

Morph - One of two or more distinct color types within the same species, occurring independently of age, sex, season, and geography. AKA: phase.

Nape - The back of the head and the hindneck.

Rump - The lower back, just above the tail.

Zygodactyl - refers the position of the toes - 2-face forward and 2-face back.

The information contained herein was written and illustrated by Alison Sheehey © 2002. All rights reserved.

Nature Alley is dedicated to protecting natural communities wherever they exist. She is involved in many scientific and educational programs, promoting environmental appreciation and ethics.

Frontispiece: Cactus Wren in a Joshua Tree

All text, drawings and photos by Alison Sheehey © NatureAli. No rights assigned, all rights reserved.

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