Where do you begin when you want to identify a new bird? To narrow down the possibilities quickly, first put the bird into one of Peterson's eight visual categories:
The swimmers are the ducks and duck-like birds such as loons, grebes, and geese.
Aerialists are birds that spend most of their time in the air. This group includes the seabirds gulls, terns, shearwaters, albatrosses, and others.
This group includes such large birds as the herons, storks, cranes, ibises, and more.
Rails, oystercatchers, plovers, and sandpipers are all smaller wading birds.
Fowl-like birds resemble chickens. Turkey, grouse, quails, and pheasants are in this group.
Birds of Prey
In this category are found all the hawks and eagles, as well as the osprey, vultures, and owls.
Nonpasserine Land Birds
Parrots, pigeons and doves, cuckoos, hummingbirds, woodpeckers, and kingfishers are all nonpasserine land birds.
This group includes a wide variety of small to medium-sized land birds such as larks, crows, jays, chickadees, wrens, vireos, warblers, blackbirds, finches, sparrows, and many more. Passerines are often referred to as songbirds or perching birds and are the most numerous group.
By placing a bird in one of these eight groups you can eliminate a great percentage of the hundreds of possible species. By using further clues, you can proceed to identify the family and common name of the bird.
Unlike the Peterson system of visual categories, taxonomists use a scientific classification system for all plants and animals based on biological relationships. Every species is classified into a series of progressively more narrow categories:
Kingdom, Phylum, Class, Order, Family, Genus, Species
What are the taxonomic categories of the Barn Swallow?
Classifying a bird means giving it a single name. Common names for the species often vary, depending on where you are. In North America, the swallow with the long, forked tail is a Barn Swallow; in Africa it is called European Swallow; and in Europe it is simply the Swallow. While common names may differ, the Latin or scientific name is the same the world over. Everywhere this bird is Hirundo rustica. The complete taxonomic classification of the Barn Swallow is:
What is a species?
Why don't all birds look alike? What prevents a Yellow Warbler from mating with a Cape May? Each of these warblers belongs to a separate species and each is typically incapable of breeding with the other. Clues to what species a bird belongs to include what it looks like, how it behaves, where it is found, and many other factors.