There are few things more enjoyable in nature than grabbing your binoculars, a field guide for birds and heading out for a day of bird watching. It’s an adventure of hide-and-seek, searching to find different species of birds. Life is just more enjoyable and puts you at ease to spend time bird watching, also known as birding. The joy it brings is part of why birding is a popular outdoor activity.
How to get started birding
The first thing to get started birding is to start reading and researching. Your best source of information is going to be a field guide to birds. There are several high-quality field guides to choose from, available on Amazon, or your local book store. A field guide to birds has lots of pictures and descriptions that is super helpful once you get into the wild, or looking out your window to where your bird feeder is hanging.
If you live in a cold climate, you can spend a lazy winter afternoon close to the fire with a warm cup of tea and your field guide in hand. Flip through and get familiar with the different birds and the characteristics that distinguish them. Learn about their habit and where they live for each of the seasons. Use this time to get a general overview of what kinds of birds you may encounter on your upcoming bird watching adventures.
The internet can be an excellent resource for bird watching information, including the Audubon Society. The BBC has a great series hosted by David Attenborough on the Life of Birds. If you want more information on a particular species, open up your browser, and perform a search.
Gear You Will Need For Bird Watching
Fortunately, bird watching is nothing like hockey. There is no massive bag of gear that seems impossible to carry to. Bird watching requires very little equipment. When you venture out in search of some birds, all you need is some viewing devices, such as a set of binoculars or a monocular, to bring them closer than you can see with the naked eye.
Binoculars come in a wide variety. The price can range from reasonably inexpensive less than $50 to well over $2,000. Just get your hands on a pair and head out on your hunt for birds. I am sure you can find a pair of binoculars to borrow from a friend or family member if you don’t want to run out to buy a set to start. Don’t feel like you need to run out and buy the most expensive binoculars either. You can get a set that is budget friend with good quality. Check out our review of the best budget binoculars for birding. I fondly remember the enormous pair of binoculars my grandparents had for us to use when we would go to our family camp, deep in the Northern Maine Woods.
We reviewed the best binoculars for birding to help guide bird watchers make the best decisions when choosing a set of binoculars. Our comparison is broken down into groups based on price range, so people can find the best pair of binoculars to match their budget.
A Field Build of Birds
Remember the field guide of birds we talked about earlier? You want to make sure you bring your field guide with you as well. So that’s all you need to get started! Of course, you can always bring more.
Other Items to Bring Birding
A journal to keep track of your birding adventures, a good water bottle to keep you hydrated, and a wide-brimmed hat are always good to have with you as well. Having a camera with the ability to zoom in on your little winged friends can help keep your memories alive by taking pictures of your adventures.
The last Step To Get Started Bird Watching
This one is simple, get outside. Okay, it’s a good idea to have a plan and know where you are going. There are lots of areas to go bird watching. Do a quick search online to find places nearby.
Remember, it is as much about the journey as it is the destination. Enjoy your time in nature. Relax and breathe deep. Find your happy place, and start searching for birds.
Test your memory to see if you can recognize the birds from your field guide study earlier. It’s no big deal if you don’t. Just open the manual and try to identify the birds you are seeing.
It’s official, welcome to the birding club. It’s a great hobby that you can enjoy for a lifetime.
More On Birding
Birdwatching has been a hobby for millions of people. Most birders keep a list of birds they encounter. This list, often referred to as a life list, contains not only the names of birds but the location, weather at the time, and circumstances at the sighting. Some people travel the world searching for the next bird for their list, while others are content to explore in their area. Every bird species you see counts towards your life list, including game birds such as Ruffed Grouse, woodcocks, and wild turkeys.
At the start of birding, a field guide and binoculars are helpful. Start with a reasonably priced pair and upgrade as needed. There are also bird calls on cd or online. These can help identify species if you can not immediately see them.
Field guides are invaluable, and most birders have a few. Audubon has books for both the Eastern and Western areas of the country. A little research into the life of birds, in general, can be handy. This will alert you to behaviors to look for and where to search for them. A Canadian Jay, for instance, can be found in coniferous forests or mixed-wood forests. However, you won’t find them in the southern parts of the U.S. Seeing a Snowy Egret in the south is common, but seeing one in the northern tier is quite rare.
Identifying birds is like doing a jigsaw puzzle. A bit of information and researched knowledge can all add up to an excellent life list. To start bringing birds to your yard, offer a wide selection of seeds, fruits, and suet. It may take time for them to come to feeders that are new, but come they will. Don’t forget the ground feeding birds such as Doves. Some birds won’t eat from a hanging feeder but will from a platform feeder or the ground.
The thrill of identifying a new ( to you ) species is the impetus for continuing birding. Newspapers are an excellent source to check if there is a rare bird in your area. Many towns have birding groups that meet once or twice a month to discuss their findings and any new sources such as a newly released field guide or identification of a bird someone has seen but not identified. For example, a robin is not always just a robin? By learning to identify birds, you will be able to tell if it’s a male, female, or young. Coloring, actions, and calls are different for each one. Most young birds do not have their adult coloring until six months or later.
When identifying a bird, notice the little things. Does the bird hop across the ground or walk? Does it have a particularly bright spot of color? What size is it? What is it doing or eating? Observant birding will lead to hours of enjoyment.
Most states have semi-annual bird counts that help the Audubon Society stay aware of bird populations. The bird counts are a great practice. Depending on the bird count, you may sign up with a group. Sometimes the groups will then be assigned an area. The goal is to have all the birds seen in the area counted by species. There are also owl counts Audubon does, and again you must sign up and be willing to spend at least a portion of the night playing recordings of owls and listening for an answering call.
The best place to start is your backyard or neighborhood. Of course if you happen to be in the northeast then birding in Maine is fantastic. Usually, you will know a few of the birds, and any you don’t can be identified with your field guide. If there is any question of the bird’s identity, try to get a reasonably good photo and compare this photo with online sources of which there are several.
Birding is also a great way to get exercise and enjoy it. Take a stroll through your local parks and wildlife refuges. It is incredible to see how many birds you know that you will need to identify. If going walking in the woods and parks, a person should have sturdy boots or shoes.
Spring and fall migrations are a great time to see new birds. Each species will have a preferred route, and by checking the Audubon website, you will find the pathway locations. Predatory birds are usually first to come back because they breed earlier than other birds. Hawks that migrate usually start nesting in late February and early March. Owls also breed earlier than other species. During the migration, often, you will see birds headed further north than you are located. This can mean additions to your life list that you might not have seen before
Patience is the most important part of birding. The ability to sit still and watch for a particular bird for your life list is necessary. Of course, this depends on how seriously you take the life list. Shorebirds, whether fresh or saltwater, are relatively easy to see, a good reason to go to the beach, and fun to watch.
The one most important thing is never to disturb a nest or breeding area. Some birds are legally protected, and as such disturbing them could result in a fine. Some states will close areas of breeding sites to protect the nests, eggs and young. Taking a nest from a tree is also illegal.
A person should always check the laws in your area. For example, New Jersey closes parts of its beaches when a species is breeding, and Maine closes part of Acadia National Park hiking trails for peregrine falcon breeding.
Ground nesting birds have a particular danger from humans. People walk and drive in the areas where their nests are. Often the eggs will be tough to spot as they are colored to match the surrounding area. In other words, a plovers nest may appear to be a group of rocks, and in the middle will be three or four oval rocks, which are, in fact, eggs.