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Resources: Plant, Bird, Insect Identification

Our Mission: Grow a network of habitat for songbirds and pollinators in gardens across the Rocky Mountains and beyond, save water for our streams and rivers, and restore our joy in nature every day. 

What's That ... ?

... Bright red flower in that front-yard meadow? (Wholeleaf Indian Paintbrush, or Castilleja integra) Photo: Susan J. Tweit

We get lots of questions about identifying plants, birds and insects. So we thought we'd share a few of our favorite web-based resources for knowing what's what and who's who.

Plants

Mock bearberry Arctostaphylos sprawling over a rock mulch. Photo: David Winger for Plant Select®

  • Plant Select: If the plant you're trying to identify is one introduced by our partner Plant Select, the most fun way to figure it out is to go to the digital version of their A Guide to Plants for Western Gardens and Beyond. You can search the full-color booklet, or just click "full screen" and flip through the pages.
  • Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center: Looking for a native plant? Their online Plants database is complete and includes a host of gardener-friendly information about each species. You can search by common or scientific name, or if you have no idea what you're looking at, try their "Combination Search" feature. Put in as many characteristics as you know and then browse the thumbnail photos for one that looks right.
  • PLANTS Database: Not sure if your plant is native or not? Try the USDA Plants Database. You can search for a plant, or in the right-hand "I want to know" column, take a short cut like "learn invasive and noxious plants." That takes you to a page with links to all sorts of kinds of invasive and noxious plant lists, including the lists for Colorado and Wyoming. Click on the scientific name to go to photos and other information about the plant (common names are listed next to the scientific name).

Birds

American Goldfinch feeding on seeds from a sunflower head. Photo: Susan J. Tweit

Insects

White-lined sphinx moth caterpillar Photo: Susan J. Tweit

Insects are a little harder to identify online, simply because there are so many different kinds of them. (For instance, there are about 4,000 species of native bees in the US north of Mexico, and 946 of those are found in Colorado.)

Bumblebee feeding on a Salvia. Photo: Rhonda Thompson Leonard

  • BugGuide is a good general resource. You can click on the silhouette of the insect in the left-hand column on the first page to go to guides for that type of insect, and work your way to more specific IDs from there. (When you click on the dragonfly silhouette, for instance, you get to the main page for these hawk-like insects.) You can also submit a photo for identification. (You have to register to submit, but it's free and not hard.)
  • The Xerces Society has published a beautiful online PDF booklet of western native bumblebees. You can scroll through and look at the photos until you find the right one, or read and learn more about these amazing pollinators and garden friends.
  • Colorado State University offers a series of fact sheets on insects and other pests, which despite the typecasting as "pests," contain lots of useful information.

What are your favorite sites for identifying plants, birds or insects? Let us know!

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