While recently trying to describe a bird that got away, I was asked what its beak looked like. I couldn't say because I really didn't see it, but this got me thinking. Do I even look at the beak when trying to identify a new bird? Maybe subconsciously, but not as a rule of thumb. I tend to look at size, color, wing bars, and habitat. Maybe I should, by design, make an effort to get a look at the beak. As this picture (shot in Arkansas) of a Brown Thrasher and a Northern Cardinal illustrates, bird beaks vary tremendously.
I guess what all of this adds up to is pretty important: 1) The beak can provide very useful information about species identification; 2) It offers insight into the diet of the bird; and 3) It provides information about the habitat in which the bird will most likely be found.
Hand-in-hand with the beak, the diet provides clues about whether the bird will be seen in treetops, foraging on the ground or teetering on plant stems and seed pods.
Since all of this valuable information can add up to being able to identify a bird better, I will now ensure that when I see a bird and am trying to get a quick ID, I will undoubtedly include a look at the beak in the process.