How to Identify Wild Game Birds

Updated February 21, 2017

The different types of game birds in North America hail from certain bird families. The grouse, partridges and quail, for example, are members of the Phasianidae family, according to the "National Audubon Society Field Guide to Birds." The ducks and geese that hunters pursue come from the Anatidae family. Identifying these varied species requires being able to recognise them by their shapes, colours, habitats and habits.

Study the shapes of the birds you see, looking for certain characteristics among the game birds. Familiarise yourself with the silhouettes these birds present. The quail, grouse and partridges will have a plump rounded appearance, resembling smaller versions of chickens. The ducks and geese are larger and stouter, with distinct necks and heads that feature bills. The pheasants have elongated bodies with long and pointy tails to go with a small head. Turkeys have long legs, unmistakable heads and long tail feathers.

Look for the colouration of game birds to give you clues to their identity. The ducks, in particular the males, are among the most colourful, with the heads typically displaying bright colours, such as the green of the mallard or the rusty red colour on a redhead. The ring-necked pheasant possess iridescent plumage. The quails, grouses and partridges usually are brownish, which allows them to blend into their backgrounds. The snow goose is usually all white or bluish. Most types of geese have similar colours on the males and females.

Identify game birds by where you find them. Ducks and geese will be around bodies of water such as ponds, rivers and lakes. Pheasants reside in grasslands and crop fields. Quail like to be near field borders and open scrublands. Turkeys prefer places where they can access such foods as acorns, with their habitat including woodlands and river bottoms. Grouse like grown-over brushy areas and coniferous forests, depending upon the type.

Watch the different things that birds do to identify them as a game bird species. Many live in groups, such as the turkeys and quails. Ducks such as the northern pintail will swim along the surface of the water and then dip down to grab aquatic plants. Diving ducks like the canvasback will submerge their entire bodies as they search the depths for food. Geese will vigorously defend their territory against intruders. Grouse will wait until a perceived threat is right on top of them before exploding away to safety in a whirr of wings.

Use the calendar to know if specific game birds are in your region of the country. Some, such as turkeys, grouse and quail, do not migrate and are year-round residents. Others, like many duck and goose species, will head south when winter approaches. These game birds return in the spring in search of suitable nesting sites. Knowing when such species will be back in your area can help you in your quest to identify game birds.

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About the Author

John Lindell has written articles for "The Greyhound Review" and various other online publications. A Connecticut native, his work specializes in sports, fishing and nature. Lindell worked in greyhound racing for 25 years.