Beginning birders quickly learn the concept of habitat preferences. It’s a pretty straightforward idea — each species seeks out a place with a particular set of conditions and spends its time there. This is helpful for identification at a very basic level, and as we gain experience, we continue to refine our knowledge of birds’ preferences (and our ability to distinguish subtle differences in habitat).
For a beginner, it’s helpful to know that you should look for sandpipers on mudflats and sparrows in hedgerows, never the other way around. More experienced birders learn that each sandpiper species likes different kinds of mudflats, and sparrows tend to sort themselves out around the hedgerow.