Everybody knows those picture games where you have to find as many differences between two pictures as you can. Did you know that bird watchers also think about spotting differences? Patches of color on birds and shapes of their body parts help bird watchers tell birds apart. One bird looks one way, and the other looks a bit different in some special way. Those special markings and shapes are called “field marks,” since bird watchers have often ended up looking at birds in fields (but also in forests and deserts and bare mountains and lakes and rivers and even on snow banks!).

Below are 5 pairs of birds to look at for differences. At the end is an answer key. You can also find an American Redstart coloring page here.

And be sure to look at the end of the answer key for more fun activities.

Can you spot the differences between these two birds?

How would you describe those differences?

How about the differences between these next two? How would you describe those differences?

And now how about these two?

Here’s another pair. How are these two birds different from each other?

Here’s your last pair. What are the differences?


Answer: Above is a male Baltimore Oriole. Its most important field mark is its orange breast. Notice too that the bright color in its tail goes all the way to the end. It’s also bigger than the American Redstart on the right.

Answer: Above is a male American Redstart. Its most important field marks are the patches of orange in its wings and tail.  Notice that unlike the Baltimore Oriole, the color in the tail does not go all the way to the end.  Also unlike the Baltimore Oriole, it is black and white underneathThis bird is tiny, and it jumps around in the trees much more than orioles do.  It hardly ever stops moving!

Answer: Above is a female American Redstart.  She’s a lot like the male, but duller in colors so she can hide on her nest better.  Instead of black, she shows gray, and instead of orange, she shows yellow.

Answer: Here’s our male American Redstart again, looking handsome!

Answer: If you compare this male Baltimore Oriole with his male Orchard Oriole cousin next to him, you’ll see a difference in the tails.  The Baltimore Oriole’s tail is colorful, while the Orchard Oriole’s tail is almost completely dark.

Answer: Another difference between these two birds is that the underside color of the Orchard Oriole above is a darker orange.  The Orchard Oriole is less bright in its color.

Answer: Here’s our male Orchard Oriole again.  Notice his head—it’s all black, and his beak is silver. That’s different from the bird next to him.

Answer: The American Robin above has white around his or her eyes and throat (males and females look alike, so we don’t know which one this is).  The back is gray instead of black.  The beak is yellow.  These features are all different from the male Orchard Oriole. Another important fact is that Orchard Oriole stay up in the trees.  American Robins also fly up into trees, but in addition they spend a lot of time hopping on the ground searching for worms and other yummy treats.

Answer: Here’s a male Eastern Towhee.  If you see a bird scratching around on the ground with red on its side and a black head, you’ll want to figure out if it’s a Towhee versus an American Robin. Notice that the Towhee’s back and tail are blacker than the Robin’s, the black goes down onto its chest.

Answer: Notice that the American Robin’s chest is red, along with its belly. The Robin’s red is brighter than on the Eastern Towhee, and the Robin’s beak is yellow.  The black on the Robin’s head is interrupted with white around its eyes and throat.  Robins are more likely to be on the ground in a field or garden, while Eastern Towhees are more often in the woods.

For more fun, you can “put together a Redstart” with online puzzles for any skill level (it’s easy to change the puzzle to have anywhere from 6 to 1,024 pieces) here.

Here’s another fun challenge: In this article about Bird Poop, can you guess which image is real bird poop, and which are bugs pretending to be bird poop so no one will eat them? The answers are at the end of the article.

Christine M. Du Bois, Coordinator of the Lansdowne Bird Town and editor of Bird Beat

Image credits:

Male Baltimore Oriole,by Mykola Swarnyk, licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0

Male American Redstart (adapted), by Wildreturn, licensed under CC BY-2.0

Female American Redstart, by lwolfartist, licensed under CC BY-2.0

Male Orchard Oriole (adapted), by Wildreturn, licensed under CC BY-2.0

American Robin, by en:User:Mdf, licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0

Male Eastern Towhee, Public domain