Bird Doppelgangers

Doppelganger is a fun word, borrowed from German, that in stories usually refers to someone’s evil twin or a ghostly apparition that looks like the viewer. However, it can also mean someone that closely resembles someone else.

Here are a few examples of Bird Doppelgangers:

Lesser and Greater Yellowlegs, Hairy and Downy Woodpecker, Cedar and Bohemian Waxwing: These birds may have some dissimilar characteristics, but their primary differences are in their sizes. A few weeks ago, the Birdfreak team was fortunate enough to see both species of Yellowlegs in the same location so it was obvious which was which. Otherwise, it is easy to leave a birding spot, thinking, “I know I saw a Yellowlegs, but which one?”

Which Yellowlegs Am I?
Lesser Yellowlegs

Eastern and Western Meadowlark, Carolina and Black-capped Chickadee, Acadian, Alder, and Willow Flycatcher. These are examples of birds who look almost exactly the same in the field (size and markings) so the best way to tell them apart is to listen for their songs.

Black-capped Chickadee
Black-capped Chickadee

Occasionally birds that don’t look alike but have similar behaviors may confuse birders. A Black-and-White Warbler may mimic the behavior of a Red-breasted Nuthatch by scaling the trunk of a tree. Even the most-seasoned birder may mistakenly identify a bird so it’s always best to give it a good look before making an identification.

Bird Doppelgangers can be frustrating in the field, but the more you bird, the more skilled you will become in finding the subtle differences that define each bird.

4 thoughts on “Bird Doppelgangers

  1. How about the Chipping Sparrow and the American Tree Sparrow. Nature makes it hard to see them together at the same time – one day in the spring, it was the tree sparrows; the next day, only chippers!

  2. I’ve had trouble with yellowlegs except when I see them together.-I really have to look at one for a while before deciding on the two. Long-billed and Short-billed Dowitchers are ridiculous. Zen-I also had trouble with those Sparrows one year during the winter.-I was seeing trees sparrows but they looked like chipping sparrows to me.

  3. Of course Black-capped and Carolina Chickadees have been found to sing each other’s songs where they overlap, making things that much more difficult. I know folks who just count all Chickadees here as hybrids. Flycatchers are a safer bet with I.D. by song. My vote on your Yellowlegs picuture would be for the Lesser, but if they are hard in real life, they are almost impossible by picture to I.D. Thanks for your picture of the Grouse on another post. I haven’t seen one in years.

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