Identification resources for the new birders

One the the challenges for new birders everywhere is not so much to see the birds (you are bound to bump into birds), but to identify what has been seen. After all, as an insightful Chinese proverb goes: “The beginning of wisdom is to call things by their proper name.”

More experienced birder rely on their memory to tell birds apart. But before one gets experience, there is always the learning process. The best and easiest way is of course observing birds with others who are more familiar that can point things out. But that is not always an option.

So how does the modern birder do it? Here is a brief guide to what sort of resources are available:


Field Guides

The printed book is still one of the easiest and most useful tool to start identifying birds. For Singapore birders, there are a few notable ones that one can buy and start their journey. I will be very brief on the subject as to the pros and cons of each.



1. A Naturalist’s Guide to the Birds of Singapore (Yong Ding Li, Kim Chuah Lim, Tiah Khee Lee)


  • The newest guide with good coverage of Singapore birds. By restricting itself to only Singapore birds, one will not be so confused compared to regional guides.
  • Photographs instead of illustrations. New birders feel comfortable with pictures while experienced birders are happier with illustrations and written description (go figure!)
  • Each species is given a description, possible sites and conservation value all in the same page.


  • It’s limited to Singapore birds, so as your birding adventure grows, you have to buy other guides.
  • One picture per bird. Sometimes they have different plumage depending on age or sex. Flying and perched birds look different too.



2. A Field Guide to the Birds of South-East Asia (Craig Robson)


  • Very well written and illustrated book covering the South-East Asia region, so rather comprehensive.
  • Most of the illustration shows a consistent, high standard of details and proportions.
  • Gold standard for the South-East Asia birds.


  • More for intermediate to advanced birders as there are way too many species described, so one tends to be overwhelmed with info.
  • The detailed descriptions are on a different page from the illustrations, so one have to flip back and forth.
  • Some of the birds that are listed as being recorded in Singapore are really not, and some of the species are split into different species not recognized locally.



3. A Field Guide to the Birds of Peninsular Malaysia and Singapore (Allen Jeyarajasingam)


  • Cover each bird in details down to subspecies level.
  • Detailed description of the range and abundance of each species.
  • Will cover Malaysian birds as many local birders eventually cross the causeway for birding.


  • Not many people use this book anymore in this side of the causeway. For one it is the most expensive.
  • Bird illustration not as good as the above.
  • The detailed descriptions are on a different page from the illustrations, so one have to flip back and forth.


Bird App


The NSS Bird Guide App

Pros: No need to buy anything, just use the mobile phone.
Cons: Only for iOS and Android. Not available for other platform.


Picture Sites

1. Oriental Bird Images

If you have the name of the bird at hand, then this website serves many pictures of the said species so that you can verify if the looks of the bird matches. It is user contributed, so quality of pictures vary.

2. African Bird Image Database

We have a lot of introduced species originating from Africa. While we do not like this situation, the challenge of identifying these birds still exist. So this bird images database can be a useful resource.


Sound Site


If you recorded or remembered a bird species calls or songs, then you can compare them to other possible candidates at this site. Identifying a bird by its call is always a good challenge, and is one that birders need to learn.


Translation Service

Database of the birds of China

If you wish to know the Chinese name of a bird, you can use this translation service that have all the names of the birds of the world in the Chinese language. This was highlighted by one of our reader, Chye Guan.

5 thoughts on “Identification resources for the new birders

    1. fryap

      You can buy online if you wish (the link to an online store is at the title of each book. There are other places like Amazon that stock these up as well. Bigger book stores like Kinokuniya should have the Naturalist’s Guide (the first book).



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