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David Sibley explains why a bird’s shape can be deceiving

Three views of an American Goldfinch, with feathers sleeked, typical, and fluffed. The overall shape is very different, but the bill, tail, and primary projection stay the same. Art by David Sibley

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Experienced birders often stress the importance of shape and proportions for identification, and there is no doubt that shape is one of the most valuable identification clues, but it takes some practice and experience to be able to notice and interpret the differences. A bird feeder is a great opportunity to practice.

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David Sibley

David Sibley

David Sibley writes the column “ID Toolkit” in every issue of BirdWatching. He published the Sibley Guide to Birds in 2000, the Sibley Guide to Bird Life and Behavior in 2001, and Sibley’s Birding Basics in 2002. He is also the author of the Sibley Guide to Trees (2009), the Sibley Guide to Birds-Second Edition (2014), and guides to birds of eastern and western North America (2016). He is the recipient of the American Birding Association’s Roger Tory Peterson Award for lifetime achievement in promoting the cause of birding and a recognition award from the National Wildlife Refuge System for his support of bird conservation.

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