How to identify birds?

After having shot a few hundreds (er… a few thousands) photos in Brazil, I ended up with a stack of images. Some were easy to label. Some were less esay to label. Particularly, for wild birds, the problem is to quickly determine the species that is appearing on the photo. Several solutions are open to an amateur photographer like me to avoid making too many big mitakes when trying to differentiate two species of brown hawk-like creatures, to greyish little birds, or even two small greenish parrots.

The first solution (and certainly the best one) is to ask experts. You can go to the nearest University, but the Internet made it even easier with the appearance of many amateur forums with an impressive collective knowledge. Some are so precise and helpful that the best experts may pale in comparison. We’ll come back to it. There are other solutions too.

First, I decided to work all by myself. Failing to write down all the information provided by the guide during the safari (note to myself: next time, bring a small paper notebook), I had to find a large and good source of reference images for the animals I was interested into. With a minimal knowedge and some personal work, a lot of identification can be done like that without too many errors if you stayed concentrated on checking all details in bird feathers and colors (and, sometimes, note : “Right! Noam told us this one was a…”).

For Brazilian birds, I used mainly two good sources: Arthur Grosset’s Birds and The first is in English and contains an astonishing amount of data, surprisingly coming from one guy only. The second is in French and is the result of cooperation on a common project where there are description, photos, living regions, etc.

Like so many collaborative Internet sites, there are surprising holes and it is a work-in-progress. But for all common species, endemic species and even some rare ones, the information is very detailed and precise. Often enough to cross-check and identify firmly the animal. Text comments may be needed to support the small differences between two similar birds, when it all lays in photo details not easy to spot.

Let’s add a remark: recent changes in classification categories and names, recent splits and regrouping of existing species often create some added diffiulties. Finally, names are quite different from one country to the next (not only from one language to the next). So, it may happen that a single birds has several names. Beware!