Flight Patterns

Using flight patterns can be helpful in bird identification. Most birds fly in a straight line and flap in a constant rhythm. Certain groups have a characteristic flight pattern to help identify them.

Circle: Soaring hawks and buteos circle the sky with outstretched wings.

Straight line: Accipiters or bird hawks fly in a straight line and alternate between flapping and floating.

Strong: Falcons have a strong wingbeat and rarely hover.

Undulating: Woodpeckers flap their wings for short bursts and then tucking them under for a short rest.

Up and Down: Finches fly in steep ups and downs similar to a roller coaster ride.

Combination: Some birds use a combination of flight patterns. For example, the Common Raven alternates between flapping and soaring.

Head-on Profiles

Don't forget to check the head-on profiles for help in bird identification. Some birds hold their wings in a shallow V-shape or a strong vertical V-shape while others extend their wings completely flat or horizontal.

Turkey Vultures hold their wings in a shallow V-shape while the Northern Harrier holds its wings in a more vertical V-shape. The Bald Eagle flies with its wings in a more horizontal pattern than some of the hawks, such as the Red-tailed Hawk.