bright blue bird standing on a branch with mouth open wide
Image: Ryan Sanderson | Macaulay Library
Blue Jay

Learn to Know What to Look For

With so many birds out there, we can all use strategies for learning to identify them. Get help from the Cornell Lab.

  • Learn how to use the "Bird Yardstick" to gauge size
  • Get familiar with the silhouettes of the major bird groups
  • Practice ID shortcuts so that you can make quick ID in the field

Be a Better Birder 1: Size and Shape

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About This Course
  • Lessons inside: 5
  • Topics inside: 27
  • Completion time (estimated): 1 hours
  • Instructional videos: 4
  • Total instructional video time: 18 minutes
  • Level: Beginner
  • Categories: Bird Identification, Nature Appreciation
  • Regionality: Anywhere – Non-regional
  • CEU credits: 0.1 (optional additional purchase)
  • Self-paced, no expiration date, 100% online
  • 60-day refund guarantee
White Ibis
Image: Liam Wolff | Macaulay Library

Why I Made This Course

"Tired of flipping through the field guide to try to identify birds? Ready to learn strategies that will jump-start your birding skills and come in handy whenever you encounter something new? Benefit from tips and tricks from the team here at the Cornell Lab as you learn to use size and shape cues to take your skills to the next level.

This course is all about building your bird identification toolbox so that your field guide becomes a friendly companion."

—Kevin McGowan, Ph.D., Course Instructor
size comparison of Sparrow, American Robin, Crow, and Canada Goose

What's Inside

Instead of frantically trying to remember every detail when you spot a bird, it helps to step back and zero on what’s most important. Size and shape are key characteristics to notice and learning to interpret how they stack up will transform your birding skills. Get to know just from a silhouette whether it’s a dove, woodpecker, or finch. This course features 6 lessons containing 4 videos, 4 interactives, and 8 quizzes. You can choose to earn a printable certificate by passing the final exam.

Try a Sample Quiz

The course contains a series of interactive quizzes so you gain valuable practice in bird ID along the way.

Try a Sample Quiz

Course Overview

Lesson 1:
Getting Started

Explore some of the things you will want to know about birds before you start working on species identification—bird anatomy, field marks, birding tips, and more!

Lesson 2:
Making Sense of Diversity

Discover the array of birds you might encounter from the amazing diversity of 10,000 species of birds worldwide. To help sort them out, we’ll show you ways of grouping them for easier identification.

Lesson 3:
Using Size

Get familiar with ways that size cues can help in bird identification—including the handy “bird yardstick” tool.

Lesson 4:
Using Shape

Experienced birders use shape above almost all other characteristics to identify birds, but beginners often neglect it. Explore the shapes of birds and how they can be a key to better birding.

Lesson 5:
Course Wrap Up

Apply your new confidence in bird identification and get resources for continuing your studies.

Meet the Course Instructor

Kevin McGowan, Ph.D.
Professional Ornithologist, World Series of Birding Champion
Course instructor Kevin McGowan combines deep knowledge about birds with a passion for helping others learn. He is a professional ornithologist at...

Hear What Students Have to Say

Great course! Easy to go outside and put these techniques to use." Bird Academy Student
The entire format is what I find most useful. Small, digestible chapters, subchapters, short videos, quick and frequent quizzes for me to check if I "get it" or not." Bird Academy Student
I would recommend this course to my beginning birder friends as an easy way to try the shape and size approach to birding and to get them to step away from just looking at colors in the field guide. It improves critical thinking about field guide images as an image of just a general template instead of an exact illustration of every bird of that species." Bird Academy Student
Even though I am edging beyond "beginning birder" status, I still liked going back and seeing a finer point put on some of the techniques I am developing." Bird Academy Student
As a beginning birder, the information as presented helped confirm possible problem spots that I need to work on to be able to identify birds better." Bird Academy Student
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Satisfaction Guarantee

Our educators and birding experts take pride in the courses they create. If you're not satisfied with the material for ANY reason, contact us within 60 days of the start of the course or purchase for a full refund.

Alternative Course Access

Birds can inspire people accross boundaries to build a more sustainable world. At Bird Academy we want to share the love and knowledge of birds! If you would like alternative access to this course, please take a look at our Take Flight Program

This Course is Entirely Online

There’s nothing to be shipped, and no additional material is necessary. Bird Academy courses are online, self-paced, and there is no deadline to complete them. You can return to them for reference or practice as often as you want. All course material, practice tools, instructional videos, and quizzes are available through your web browser. Learn anytime, anywhere*. Gain the skills and understanding you’re looking for.

*Requires an internet connection and a modern web browser.

Course Instructor: Dr. Kevin McGowan

Give the Gift of Learning

Gift certificates are a great way to give the bird enthusiasts in your life something that supports and encourages their passion.

Learn About Gift Certificates