People often say, "I don't know how you can identify birds so fast." And I tell them it is like anything else--practice. The people who are best at bird identification (and there are LOTS of people better than I) are those who spend the most time birding and who study in between their birding trips.
I came across a great blog post, "The Brain and Birds," by Richard Crossley, the author of The Crossley ID Guide. I posted a review of this book a few months back. As we bird more, we tend to pick up patterns we use to identify the birds and through repetition (whether seeing the bird in the field or reviewing birds in the field guides and reading articles about them) we help our brain make the information readily accessible.
Anyway, I thought is was an interesting post and wanted to share.