Birdwatching Basics

Bird Identification

To identify birds, pay attention to details including:

  • Size — bigger than a … smaller than a …
  • Bill shape, length and color
  • Head — large, small, crested, eye ring, eye line
  • Throat and breast — spotted, streaked
  • Wings — wing bars present or absent
  • Tail — length, whether forked or notched
  • Back, rump and under tail colors
  • Behavior, such as wing flicking or tail bobbing
  • Habitat (urban, woodland, wetlands, etc.)
  • Range maps which show distribution across U.S.


Binoculars Help You See The Birds Better

7 x 35 and 8 x 42 are both good choices. The first number refers to magnification and the second number refers to the diameter of the objective lens in millimeters. Try them out at retail locations or at a birding festival. Evaluate for factors like clarity of image, ease of use, and comfort. Check websites for binocular reviews: The Audubon Guide to Binoculars and Bird Watcher’s Digest are reputable sources. Click here to watch a video of the Travis Audubon Lunch Series presentation with Marcie Hysinger about what to look for when selecting binoculars.


Recommended Print Field Guides

  • National Geographic’s Birds of North America, Seventh Edition by Jonathan Alderfer and Jon Dunn
  • The Sibley Guide to Birds, Second Edition by David Allen Sibley
  • Field Guide to Birds of North America by Kenn Kaufman
  • Peterson Field Guide to Bird Sounds of Eastern North America by Nathan Pieplow
  • Peterson Field Guide to Bird Sounds of Western North America by Nathan Pieplowe


Identification Apps for Smart Phones and/or Tablets

  • Merlin — a free app from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. It will help identify birds based on their color, size, habitat, behavior and your location. Photo and sound identification are newer helpful features.
  • Audubon Bird Guide App — a free app from the National Audubon Society.
  • Sibley Birds 2nd Edition — this app allows you to compare two species side by side.



The Cornell Lab of Ornithology has many resources, and all are excellent. They include:

  • All About Birds — learn more about birds of interest.
  • eBird — The go-to website to get information on places to go birding, recent bird sightings, bird distribution, and to keep track of your sightings, while contributing to citizen science.
  • Nestwatch and Project Feederwatch — Learn more about appropriate nest boxes for species, and what and how to feed birds safely.


Attract Birds To Your Backyard

Provide food, clean shallow water, shelter and places to raise young. Natural food provided by native plants, whether it is the insects the plant supports, or the seeds, nuts, nectar, foliage, or fruits the plant provides are the sustainable way to feed the birds.

  • Check out Travis Audubon’s bird habitat plant recommendations to attract songbirds and hummingbirds. Click here and scroll down to find the plant lists.
  • Select Texas native plants. Visit the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center Native Plant Information Network website to learn about the native plants of your area. Attend a Native
    Plant Society of Texas Native Landscape Certification Program class to get started. Click here for more info.
  • Certify your yard as a Certified Wildlife Habitat through the National Wildlife Federation and educate your neighbors. Click here for more info.
  • Learn about other actions you can take to keep birds safe and healthy in the Bird Friendly Communities section of the Travis Audubon website.


Expected Backyard Bird Species in the Austin Area

Permanent residents live here year-round. The variety of species depends on your location and proximity to preferred habitats. To learn more about the seasonal distribution of the species recorded in the Austin, TX region, get a copy of the Travis Audubon checklist.

Rock Pigeon
Inca Dove  
White-winged Dove
Mourning Dove
Eastern Screech-Owl
Great Horned Owl
Golden-fronted Woodpecker
Red-bellied Woodpecker
Downy Woodpecker
Ladder-backed Woodpecker
Blue Jay
Woodhouse’s Scrub Jay
Carolina Chickadee
Black-crested Titmouse
Tufted x Black-crested Titmouse (hybrid)
Carolina Wren
Bewick’s Wren
European Starling
Northern Mockingbird
American Robin
House Sparrow
House Finch
Lesser Goldfinch
Great-tailed Grackle
Northern Cardinal