Search Attributes

  • Location Common back to top

    Location Common should be used when you wish to match birds which are common and likely to be found in your area. Alternately the Location Uncommon attribute should be used if you wish to include both rare and accidental species. Try to select as few locations as possible (one preferred) to keep the number of matches as small as possible.

    Caution: Birds are often found outside reported ranges. Apparently they do not read range maps.

  • Location Uncommon back to top

    Location Uncommon should be used when you wish to include all birds that might be in your area, even ones unlikely to be seen. This attribute includes birds which are rare and accidental, such as species which have flown off course because of bad weather. It also contains the birds more often found on State lists whose ranges are expanding due to climate changes and food availability.

    The number of matched birds will be larger for the Uncommon attribute than the alternative Common version. Select as few locations as possible (one preferred) to optimize your search.

    Caution: Birds are often found outside reported ranges. Apparently they do not read range maps.

  • Shape back to top

    The Shape attribute should be used to narrow birds down to one of the 14 general body forms representing most North American birds. For example if you wish to quickly see all the ducks in North America (or the region your app is for, or the state you have selected) choose the Duck-like shaped value. Shape is a good attribute to use early in a search because bird shapes are distinct and easy to tell apart.

    Caution: Select as few shapes as possible (one preferred) to optimize the search.

  • Size back to top

    The Size attribute is used to select from one of five size categories representing length from the tip of bill to end of the tail. Size varies from Very Small (3 to 5 inches) to Very Large (32 to 72 inches). While the differences between very large and very small can be easily discerned, size is not a reliable attribute since the size differences of a bird can be difficult to estimate from a distance.

    If you wish to study the various sizes of birds with higher accuracy use the Length Range attribute.

    Caution: Select as few sizes as possible (one preferred) to optimize the search.

  • Habitat back to top

    Use the Habitat attribute when you wish to narrow the matched list of birds to a place you observed it, or when you wish to know what species are found in a particular type of environment. Habitats vary from Coasts, Deserts, Forests, etc. Because birds are prone to be found in many different environments, Habitat is a good attribute to use later in a search. Select as few habitats as possible (one preferred) to optimize the search.

    Caution: Many birds are found in a wide variety of habitats, limiting the value of this attribute.

  • Color Prominent back to top

    The Color Prominent attribute is the answer to the question, “What color of the bird is most conspicuous?” It’s the color that stands out the most and is the most striking. Secondarily it may be the color that makes up the largest percentage of the bird’s coloring. It is usually, but not always, the shade used in the first common name of a bird such as the Black Swift, Blue Jay, Brown Creeper, etc. Use this attribute when you are certain you know the most obvious coloring of a bird but uncertain about other coloring details. You can use the secondary color in conjunction with it to help narrow the search further.

    Note: This attribute only applies to adult male species.

  • Color Primary back to top

    Any color on a bird’s body or wings that makes up more than 30% of the area will be matched by the Color Primary attribute. Colors that take up less area are considered a secondary color so choose Color Secondary for those. For example if a species has more than 30% blue and 30% orange you can select both blue and orange for the search values and the attribute will match all birds which have either blue OR orange greater than 30%.

    You can also use the Dominant Color attribute and just select Blue for the same search but be aware that it might match more birds.

    ALL Values Switch

    The switch at the top called ALL values is normally OFF. This means that the Color Primary attribute selects ANY species with the selected colors, e.g., in our example you get all birds that have 30% or more blue or orange. If you turn the switch ON it acts as an AND function meaning only species that have ALL the selected colors will be matched. This will yield fewer matches but will often be more accurate. Caution: only choose colors of which you are certain.

  • Color Secondary back to top

    Use the Color Secondary attribute to represent any color that appears in small areas of the bird’s body such as the crown, breast, underparts, tail and so on. This attribute is best used after the Primary Color attribute to fine tune the search by color. As an example if you saw a woodpecker-shaped bird with a red head and neck and a some white in the belly and you would set Shape to Tree-clinging like, Color Primary to Red and Color Secondary to White. This would return the Red-breasted Woodpecker which is most likely the bird you saw.

    ALL Values Switch

    The switch at the top called ALL values is normally OFF. This means that the Color Secondary attribute selects ANY species with the selected colors. If you turn the switch ON it acts as an AND function meaning only species that have ALL the selected colors will be matched. This will yield fewer matches but will often be more accurate. Caution: only choose colors of which you are certain.

  • Backyard Feeder back to top

    The Backyard Feeder attribute allows narrowing the matched list of birds to just those that visit feeders. There are two values: Yes frequently refers to those species that are commonly found at backyard feeders, such a Black-capped Chickadees, American Goldfinches, etc. The value Yes but uncommon refers to those species that uncommonly visit backyard feeders such as the Eastern and Western Meadowlarks, Golden-crowned Kinglet, Band-tailed Pigeon, etc.

    The best way to use this attribute is to try Yes frequently value first then the uncommon value next. Using them together is not advised.

    Data for this attribute is partially based on Project Feeder Watch from Birds at Your Feeder by Dunn and Tessaglia-Hymes, (C) 1990, W. W. Norton and Co, NY.

  • Family back to top

    Use the Family attribute when you are certain of the family a bird belongs to and wish to narrow the matched list to just the species in that family. For example if you are certain you identified a falcon you can select the Falcon Family for this attribute and it will show just the 9 species in that family. You could have used the Shape attribute and selected Hawk-like but that would have matched not just falcons but all 40 hawks. Thus Family is usually a more accurate attribute than using Shape but it requires a more precise initial identification. It is advised to only choose one Family for this attribute.

    Caution: This attribute is best suited for experienced birders.

  • Conservation Status back to top

    The International Union for Conservation of Nature or ICUN supports a database called the ICUN Red List of Threatened Species. The goal of this group is to monitor and report on the threat and endangerment of plants and animals around the world. The actual method of how a species is accessed for its status is a complex scientific process which you can read about at the ICUN web site (icunredlist.org).

    The 7 conservation levels are defined as follows:

    • Extinct (EX) – No individuals remaining.
    • Extinct in the Wild – (EW) – Known only to survive in captivity, or as a naturalized population outside its historic range.
    • Critically Endangered (CR) – Extremely high risk of extinction in the wild.
    • Endangered (EN) – High risk of extinction in the wild.
    • Vulnerable (VU) – High risk of endangerment in the wild.
    • Near Threatened (NT) – Likely to become endangered in the near future.
    • Least Concern (LC) – Lowest risk. Widespread and abundant taxa are included in this category.
  • Observed State/Month back to top

    Use the Observed State/Month attribute instead of Location Common or Location Uncommon when you are interested in what birds are present at a certain time of year in a particular state or province. Not as many species will be matched since specific months lowers the occurrence but the results are likely to be more accurate.

    Note: Species ranges are constantly moving around so you can’t guarantee the boundaries will be the same year to year.

  • Song back to top

    Use the Song attribute when you wish to narrow the match list based on the type of call or song you heard. Songs are made when birds are mating or defending territory while calls are made when birds are communicating with each other. Typical songs are the Honking sounds of geese and swans, the Cooing sounds of pigeons and doves, etc. To become proficient play each song one at a time until you can name the type by just hearing it.

    Note: Use the Song Pattern attribute to further define the character of the Song itself.

  • Song Pattern back to top

    Song Pattern defines the frequency change of a song or call. Falling means the frequency starts at one pitch and then falls to a lower one, Flat means the pitch does not change, Rising means the pitch goes higher and Sing-song means it moves up and down.

  • Breast Color back to top

    Also referred to as the chest or pectoral region, breast color is an excellent attribute to use for identification when the color stands out from the other colors of the body. The area of a bird’s breast extends from just below the throat to right above the belly.

    Selecting a breast color such as red will match common birds such as the American Robin, House Finch, Northern Cardinal, etc.

  • Length Range back to top

    The Length Range attribute represents the length of a bird in inches as measured from the tip of the beak to the end of the tail. This attribute provides sliders as well as a spinner control (like the one for entering time or date on the iPhone clock) for inputting a bird’s length to one-hundredth of an inch. This allows much more accuracy in determining the size of the bird and thus provides a more accurate way to specify length than the Size attribute. However judging the size of a bird can be difficult at a distance.

    This attribute is particularly useful in performing studies of the size distributions of species, for example you can dial in a size such as 2.75 to 3.75 inch and see what birds fit those criteria.

  • Weight Range back to top

    The Weight Range attribute represents the weight of a bird in ounces. Estimating a bird’s weight is very difficult and tricky since they have hollow bones and can puff up their features and change their apparent size. This attribute is provided more for studying the weight of birds. For example you can enter 0.10 to 1.00 ounces and see there are over 500 birds in that range.

    Caution: This attribute should not be used for searching as weight is something you really can’t know unless you weigh the bird with a scale.

  • Wing Shape back to top

    The Wing Shape attribute is useful when you get a good look at the wings of a bird when they are extended in flight. It covers the six common wing shapes: broad, long, pointed, rounded, tapered and very long wings.

    Understand if you select multiple wing shape values the number of matches will represent the combination of both values (the OR). For example if you select Broad-Wings and Long-Wings you will get all birds that have Broad-Wings and all birds that have Very-Long Wings, not just birds that have very long broad wings. Therefore select only one Wing shape value at a time.

  • Flight Pattern back to top

    The Flight Pattern attribute is a very powerful way to identify birds by the way they move through the air when flying. Many birds exhibit the patterns found in several of the 12 basic categories:

    • Direct flight is where birds fly in a straight and level path while continuously flapping their wings. Many species fall into this category such as blackbirds, ducks, herons, and shorebirds.
    • Dynamic soaring is used by seabirds such as petrels to soar up and down across water.
    • Flap and glide is common among birds such as ravens, owls, and hawks where the species takes a break from flapping to soar and glide.
    • Glide describes the flight of birds which travel a distance without flapping their wings. It’s seen in swifts and swallows.
    • Hawking is a pattern where a bird flies from a perched position out and up then back to the perch in a circular motion. Flycatchers and warblers use this flying pattern when they’re hunting insects in the air.
    • Hovering is a helicopter-like motion where a bird creates lift on both the upstroke and down stroke or flies into a strong headwind (wind hovering) which gives the impression the bird is perfectly balanced in space. Frequently used by hummingbirds and kestrels.
    • Moth-like flight pattern is stiff-winged and erratic, much like a moth or butterfly. Nighthawks use this flight pattern.
    • Static soaring is a common pattern in hawks and vultures where the bird soars deliberately in circles on long broad wings.
    • Straight-line formation is the pattern where birds fly as a group in a straight line. Pelicans are a good example of this distinct kind of flight as they glide only a few feet off the ocean. Also used by flamingos, cormorants, and some cranes.
    • Undulating flight refers to those species which fly in a kind of roller coaster wave flapping as they rise then gliding as they fall into the trough. Woodpeckers and finches follow this pattern.
    • V formation is one of the most identifiable and well known of flight patterns of birds which are migrating such as geese and swans. In this formation each bird flies slightly above the bird in front of him, resulting in lower wind resistance.
    • Zigzag flight pattern is an unusual pattern where the bird flies up and down in a somewhat triangular path, often seen in birds like the snipes and grouse.
  • Tail Shape back to top

    The tail consists of long feathers extending from the rear of the bird and is used for balance and as an asset to attract potential mates. Certain species have extremely elaborate tail feathers, such as peacocks, which serve no other purpose than to convey a positive message to a female during courtship.

    The Tail Shape attribute refers to one of several different shapes a tail can assume. Tails can be naturally fan-shaped like a pigeon when it takes off, forked like a Barn Swallow in flight, notched like a perching American Goldfinch, pointed like a Mourning Dove, rounded like a Northern Cardinal or California Towhee, square like the American Coot or unique like a Long-tailed Jaeger or Northern Pintail.

    The tail shapes that narrow down the number of birds a great deal are the forked, notched, and unique shapes.

  • Wingspan back to top

    The Wingspan attribute represents the length of the wings in inches from the tip of one wing to the tip of the other wing. The Wingspan attribute provides sliders as well as a spinner control (like the one for entering time or date on the iPhone clock) for inputting the wingspan to one-hundredth of an inch. This allows much more accuracy in determining the length of the wingspan. However judging the wingspan of a bird can be difficult at a distance.

    This attribute is particularly useful in performing studies of the wingspan distributions of species, for example you can dial in a size such as 100 to 110 inches and see which birds have such an enormous wingspan.

  • Leg Color back to top

    The Leg Color attribute is useful when you are able to see the color of these limbs, which in small birds may be difficult given how tiny they are. However many birds have very distinct leg color, for example selecting Blue for this attribute will find the Blue-footed Booby, Green will find the Common Greenshank and so on. In fact there are over 72 bird species with pink legs.

  • Head Pattern back to top

    Pattern related attributes are particularly effective for narrowing down a list of birds and none is more powerful than the Head Pattern attribute. Most experts would agree that a great deal of information about a bird species is contained in the head therefore it’s one of the best attributes to begin your search with. Every bird falls into one of the 11 patterns in iBird. These are defined as follows:

    • Capped A capped head pattern is an area of color which covers the top of the head, like a wool cap that doesn’t cover the ears. Species such as the American Goldfinch, Acorn Woodpecker, and House Sparrow are capped.
    • Crested or plumed A crest is formed when head feathers can stand up straight and is found in jays, cardinals, and titmice. A plume is a large feather or group of feathers, often only found during breeding season.
    • Eyeline An eyeline is a stripe that runs through a bird’s eye starting at the front of the head and ending at the back. Eyeline is a worthy diagnostic if you detect it, and is found in a number of birds including the Brown Creeper, Black-headed Grosbeak, and House Sparrow.
    • Eyering The eyering is a small ring that surrounds the eye of the bird and is a useful identifying mark. It’s found in many species such as the Alder Flycatcher, Townsend’s Solitaire, and Connecticut Warbler.
    • Malar or malar stripe This marking on a bird’s face is a line which extends from the base of the bill to the side of the neck, usually in a downwards and backwards direction. Sometimes this is called a mustache or moustachial stripe and helps to identify such species as the American Kestrel, Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, and Song Sparrow.
    • Masked The mask is usually a dark band that begins at the base of the bill and extends through the eye, ending just behind the eye. It appears that the bird has a mask on. Birds with this feature include most shrikes and the Cedar Waxwing.
    • Plain The plain head pattern refers to those species which have no head markings at all such as the American Crow, American Coot and Bald Eagle.
    • Spotted The spotted head pattern refers to spots in the head area. It’s found on species like the Antillean Nighthawk, Burrowing Owl, and Wood Thrush.
    • Streaked The streaked pattern refers to a collection of jagged lines which run from the forehead to the back of the head. They are often broken up and not parallel like the striped pattern. They are found in the Baird’s Sandpiper, Song Sparrow, and the female House Finch.
    • Striped Striped head pattern is similar to streaked except the rows continue unbroken from the forehead to the back of the head. They vary from just a few stripes to several. Bird species with clearly marked striped head patterns are the Black-throated Gray Warbler, Chipping Sparrow, and Lark Sparrow.
    • Unique Pattern The unique head pattern includes those birds whose head pattern defies easy classification because it has a collection of patterns or ones that are unusual. Examples of species that have a unique pattern include the Anna’s Hummingbird, Bullock’s Oriole (capped and eyeline), and the common House Sparrow with a mask, cap and, stripe.
  • Breast Pattern back to top

    The Breast pattern attribute represents the characteristics of the feathers that cover of the area defined as the bird’s breast. The breast extends from the bottom of the neck to the midpoint of the bird, where the belly starts. iBird has standardized six different patterns that are found in many areas of a bird’s topography as follows:

    • Barred or banded Barred, also known as banded, refers to a pattern made up of alternate bands of color. The barred pattern is often found in owls; indeed the Barred Owl’s breast is named after it. Barring is also found in geese such as the Canada Goose as well as raptors such as the Cooper’s Hawk and the adult Red-shouldered Hawk.
    • Mottled The mottled pattern has a variable percentage of black or brown feathers that are tipped with white. Mottling is often found mixed with barred feathers which provide a perfect blending in the natural background of vegetation. Mottling is found in many birds including ducks and owls. The Mottled Duck is named after this feature.
    • Scaled or scalloped The pattern of scaled or scalloped feathers is very similar to the scales of a fish. The feathers gather into overlapping triangles or rounded disks and tend to get larger as they fan out. Again the pattern is so prevalent that there are birds named with the pattern; the Scaled Quail for example. The pattern is not confined to larger birds; the Blue-throated Hummingbird has a sort of scaled breast pattern.
    • Solid A solid pattern means there is one continuous texture which is unbroken. It may have more than one color but it lacks any kind of strong feature. A great many birds have a solid breast pattern particularly those with one solid color such as crows and ravens but also well known species like the House Sparrow.
    • Spotted or speckled Spots are not only found on dogs but on bird’s as well. The spotted or speckled pattern is just as it sounds: circular disks of color arranged in a random pattern. They can be light on dark or dark on light. Examples include the Spotted Owl, Spotted Sandpiper, and Spot-breasted Oriole.
    • Striped or streaked The stripe or streaked pattern consists of a series of long or short lines of various widths, often pointed and running vertically from top to bottom. Good examples are the American Bittern, Black-and-white Warbler and the Brown Pelican.
  • Belly Pattern back to top

    The Belly Pattern attribute is used to identify a bird by its belly pattern. The belly extends from the bottom of the breast to the beginning of the tail feathers. The patterns for this attribute are the same as the Breast Pattern attribute and can be found by pressing the Breast Pattern How to use this attribute button.

  • Back Pattern back to top

    The Back Pattern field mark is used to identify a bird by its back pattern. The back extends from the bottom of the head to the beginning of the tail feathers. The patterns for this attribute are the same as those as the Breast Pattern attribute and can be found by pressing the Breast Pattern How to use this attribute button.

  • Crown Color back to top

    The Crown area is found at the top part of a bird’s head. It can be the same color as the rest of the bird and can be plain, crested or capped, depending on the species. The colors that can be used are the same as those used for the Color Primary attribute and are: black, blue, brown, buff, gray, green, olive, orange, pink, red, rufous or rust, tan, white and yellow.

    ALL Values Switch back to top

    The switch at the top called ALL values is normally OFF. This means that the attribute selects ANY species with the selected colors and it’s referred to OR logic. If you turn the switch ON it acts as an AND function meaning only species that have ALL the selected colors will be matched. This will yield fewer matches but will often be more accurate. Caution: only choose colors of which you are certain.

  • Forehead Color back to top

    The Forehead area is found at the front of the bird’s head and is homologous in location to the human forehead. Specifically it refers to the area above the eyes in the face of the bird. The colors that can be used are the same as those used for the Color Primary attribute and are: black, blue, brown, buff, gray, green, olive, orange, pink, red, rufous or rust, tan, white and yellow.

    ALL Values Switch

    The switch at the top called ALL values is normally OFF. This means that the attribute selects ANY species with the selected colors and it’s referred to OR logic. If you turn the switch ON it acts as an AND function meaning only species that have ALL the selected colors will be matched. This will yield fewer matches but will often be more accurate. Caution: only choose colors of which you are certain.

  • Cere Color back to top

    The Cere is a smooth and featherless patch of skin located where the beak attaches to the forehead. It is often enlarged and brightly colored such as in parrots and in birds of prey. It is also called the operculum. The colors that can be used are the same as those used for the Color Primary attribute and are: black, blue, brown, buff, gray, green, olive, orange, pink, red, tan, white and yellow. Only a small percentage of bird species have a cere so use this attribute with caution.

    ALL Values Switch

    The switch at the top called ALL values is normally OFF. This means that the attribute selects ANY species with the selected colors and it’s referred to OR logic. If you turn the switch ON it acts as an AND function meaning only species that have ALL the selected colors will be matched. This will yield fewer matches but will often be more accurate.

    Caution: Only choose colors of which you are certain.

  • Throat Color back to top

    A bird’s throat is similar to the human throat and is located the front of the neck. It is often called a jugulum, foreneck or throat patch. While it is a small area of a bird’s body it does give important identification information. The colors that can be used are the same as those used for the Color Primary attribute and are: black, blue, brown, buff, gray, green, olive, orange, pink, purple or violet, red, rufous or rust, tan, white and yellow.

    ALL Values Switch

    The switch at the top called ALL values is normally OFF. This means that the attribute selects ANY species with the selected colors and it’s referred to OR logic. If you turn the switch ON it acts as an AND function meaning only species that have ALL the selected colors will be matched. This will yield fewer matches but will often be more accurate.

    Caution: Only choose colors of which you are certain.

  • Nape Color back to top

    The Nape is the back of the neck where the head joins the body. It is also called the hindneck or collar and is in the same relative location as the human neck. The collar is brightly colored in certain bird species. The colors that can be used are the same as those used for the Color Primary attribute and are: black, blue, brown, buff, gray, green, olive, orange, pink, red, rufous or rust, tan, white and yellow.

    ALL Values Switch

    The switch at the top called ALL values is normally OFF. This means that the attribute selects ANY species with the selected colors and it’s referred to OR logic. If you turn the switch ON it acts as an AND function meaning only species that have ALL the selected colors will be matched. This will yield fewer matches but will often be more accurate.

    Caution: Only choose colors of which you are certain.

  • Eye Color back to top

    In iBird the eye color refers specifically to the iris which is the circular diaphragm that forms the colored portion of the eye and contains a circular opening, called the pupil, in its center. While most birds have a brown iris, some bird’s have very bright and unique iris colors. The main colors in iBird are black, blue, brown, gray, green, orange, red, white and yellow.

    The iris color attribute can be very useful when you are sure of the color, but keep in mind that eye color is a difficult value to see at a distance. One unusual iris color is red and is found in the Common Loon, Band-tailed Pigeon, Common Ground-Dove, and of course the Red-eyed Vireo.

    ALL Values Switch

    The switch at the top called ALL values is normally OFF. This means that the attribute selects ANY species with the selected colors and it’s referred to OR logic. If you turn the switch ON it acts as an AND function meaning only species that have ALL the selected colors will be matched. This will yield fewer matches but will often be more accurate.

    Caution: Only choose colors of which you are certain.

  • Bill Shape back to top

    The Bill Shape attribute is very helpful in narrowing down the number of matched birds. Bills have evolved as tools which birds use for specific functions, as Darwin discovered when he was on the Galapagos Islands. iBird defines 9 common bill shapes as follows:

    All-purpose as found in the American Robin, Cone as found in the American Goldfinch, Curved (up or down) as found in the Wild Turkey, Dagger as found in the Acorn Woodpecker, Hooked as found in most raptors, Hooked Seabird as found in Albatross and Petrels, Needle as found in Hummingbirds, Spatulate as found in ducks and Specialized as found in birds like the American White Pelican or the Black Skimmer.

    When using Bill Shape, select as few shapes as possible (one preferred) to optimize the search. In some cases a bill is included in multiple categories, for example when a dagger is close to a needle it is in both Dagger and Needle.

    Caution: This attribute does not refer to bill length.

  • Bill Length back to top

    There are three lengths for the Bill in iBird: about the same length as head, longer than head and shorter than head. The Bill Length attribute can be very useful in identification especially when the bill is longer than the head.

    Caution: Only use one Bill Length value.

  • Ear Tufts back to top

    Ear Tufts (sometimes called horns) refer to tufts of feathers that protrude from the top of the head, most often seen in the owl family. While not all Owls have Ear tufts this attribute this can be helpful in identifying many of them. Other birds with Ear Tufts are the Horned Grebe and the Horned Lark.

  • Game Bird back to top

    Game birds are bird species which can be hunted during the hunting season. Check the web site of your state Department of Fish and Game Resources Agency or the International Hunter Education Association (IHEA) for legal species and seasons.

    Note: There are about 58 bird species in iBird which are classified as game birds.

  • Order back to top

    Biological classification, or scientific classification in biology, is a method to group and categorize organisms into groups such as genus or species. These groups are known as taxa (singular: taxon). The categories begin with Domain, followed by Kingdom, Phylum, Class and then Order. Under Order are Family, Genus and Species. The bird families fall into one of 22 Orders from ANSERIFORMES to TROGONIFORMES.

    See the Glossary for more details.

    Caution: this attribute is best suited for experienced birders.

  • Illustration Update back to top

    This attribute is to help you isolate the illustrations that are new or updated in a particular version of the app. For example if you just updated to version 5.1 and you select that value for this attribute you can view the species that have new illustrations. In other words it’s a fast way to appreciate what is new in the app as far as artwork is concerned.