Shape, Size & Silhouette


Some shape descriptions can be chunky, compact, plump, sleek, slim, stocky or stout. For example:

  • Chunky – Red-breasted Nuthatch
  • Compact –Rufous Hummingbird
  • Plump – Dove
  • Sleek – Tree Swallow
  • Slim- House Finch
  • Stocky – European Starling
  • Stout – American Crow

Using the American Crow as an example, you could describe a crow as stout with a large body and a heavy, strong bill with a medium-length tail. Or another example, a House Finch could be described as a small, slim, medium-sized bird with a conical, seed-eating bill and notched tail.


The size and shape are quick ways to help identify a bird. For example, it's easy to recognize the difference between the size of a chickadee, robin, crow or an eagle. Pick out birds that vary in size and use them as your ruler. Don't try to guess or estimate the length of the bird because most estimates are amazingly inaccurate. Describe the bird with references; such as, smaller than a chickadee or larger than a robin.


Become familiar with bird silhouettes. One of the best places to study silhouettes is in A Field Guide to Western Birds by Roger Tory Peterson. Inside the front and back cover of his book are two pages of silhouettes of birds in their natural habitat. Birders can often tell you the name of the bird just by the silhouette so it's an important feature to recognize.