How to Search

The iBird search engine is a powerful way to identify birds by selecting characteristics you remember clearly. It also provides a wonderful way to learn about birds that no book can match. When used correctly it provides excellent matches. However the search can easily be misused so please read this short tutorial before you start. Also before using any attribute read the description of how it works by pressing the button called How to use this attribute.

  1. Search characteristics, such as Location, Shape, Color, etc., are called attributes. Attributes have valueswhich are displayed on a page when you press the attribute name. A value represents the different aspects of the attribute. For example the Location attribute’s values are the names of the states and province names of North America.The Family attribute’s values are the text names of bird families. The Shape attribute’s values are images representing the 14 different bird shapes. The Length Range attribute’s values are the numbers 2.75 to 84 inches. The Song attribute’s values are 14 different sounds that birds make. Thus there are text values, image values, number values and sound values.
  2. Search attributes are organized into groups. There are Basic, Song, Body, Flight, Pattern, Head, and Miscellaneous groups.
  3. The majority of the attributes you need to identify a bird are found in the Basic Group. They are Location, Shape, Size, Habitat, Color, Breast Color, Backyard Feeder, Family, Conversation Status and Observed State/Month. Of course the other iBird search attributes are very useful but when learning, it’s best to stick to those under the Basic Group.
  4. The most common mistake is selecting values for a large number of attributes and then looking to see if your species is identified. This approach will usually lead to no birds found. Instead choose one attribute, select one or more values for it, then view the matched birds and see if they somewhat resemble the bird you saw. When you have established that those in the list are close, move to the second attribute, select a value and check the matched list again. Repeat this process until you find your bird.
  5. The order in which you use search attributes is important. It’s always a good idea to start with Location Common because it will accurately match the most common birds in your state, province or area. The Location Uncommon attribute produces a larger list because it includes some of the more rare birds.
  6. Shape is an excellent choice after Location. There are 14 basic bird shapes and when used properly this can narrow a large list to a much smaller one very quickly. Shapes such as Hawk-like, Hummingbird-like, etc. are very effective in narrowing your matched list because the number of species in these families are fairly small compared to Perching-like or Gull-like which have many more species.
  7. The Size attribute is useful but only when you are certain of the bird’s length, which is not easy to determine when the bird is far away or very small. Size in iBird lets you select from one of 5 size ranges, from Very Small which is 3 to 5 inches, all the way up to Very Large, which is 32 to 72 inches.
  8. Habitat is useful when you are in a well defined environment like a swamp or coast. But since birds do not recognize the boundaries defined in iBird you can’t guarantee it will give accurate results. Thus use Habitat judiciously.
  9. Color is an attribute that you are likely to use right away but oddly, color is not always a good indicator of the species of the bird.This is due to the fact that a) colors of a bird’s plumage change often during the year and b) the human eye does not do a great job of telling one color from another.If the bird you wish to ID is one or two solid colors such as black, white, black and white, orange, etc. you should try the Color Prominent attribute. The Color Prominent attribute answers the question, “What color of the bird is most conspicuous?” It’s the color that stands out the most or is the most striking.
  10. Breast Color is highly diagnostic, think robin redbreast. Certain breast colors such as blue, green and red narrow the match list quickly.
  11. Backyard Feeder limits the search to those birds likely to be found at feeders. There are two values, Yes frequently and Yes but uncommon. A very good attribute when you are in a backyard.
  12. Family is useful when you are experienced in identifying birds by the family they belong to. However there are over 80 different families so this should only be used if you are an experienced birder. A good way to become familiar with this attribute is to use the Browse Sort mode Family with switch set to Taxonomic.
  13. Conservation Status, found only in iBird Pro for North America, is used to select the degree to which species are endangered or threatened.
  14. Observed State/Month, found only in iBird Pro for North America, is used to select species found in states or provinces during specific months of the year. It is an excellent way to limit the match to just those birds most likely to be found during specific months. Note: this attribute may miss birds since they do not visit states on strict dates.