So, you want to be a birder but you’re a total birdwatching noob. Well, you’re in good company.
Over 60 million Americans, have stood where you stand at one point and their experiences are going to make yours easier.
So, let’s take a look at how you can get started with birdwatching.
We’ll show you the basics of finding birds, identifying them and the tools that you need to get the most out of bird watching.
We can’t think of any better way to spend time in nature than enjoying its most beautiful and often most tuneful subjects.
Where Do You Go To Find Birds?
Birding is the easiest hobby in the world in many respects. That’s because birds are still almost everywhere.
Of course, you’ll get more birds if you head out to the green open spaces around you but you’ll find them singing on the balcony of inner city apartment blocks too.
You could even try attracting birds to your yard or garden with one of these bird house kits.
The trick is then to get the birds to a.) come close enough and b.) hang around long enough for you to enjoy their company.
We follow this simple process:
- Pause. This means you want to be by yourself (or if in a group – you want to be quiet as a group). Then stand still. Put anything that might distract you away (and for your own sanity, switch off your phone). If you have your “bins” (what birders call binoculars) keep them to hand. Empty your mind, take a deep breath and relax.
- Look. Now, you want to look in spaces that you are most likely to find birds in the place you’re in. On top of fences or power lines in the city, in treetops in the forests and even on the grass in a park. Try to find the hints of bird movement with your naked eye before bringing up your bins – it will save you a ton of time and frustration.
- Listen. Hear the birds around you. Sure, you came to watch but half the fun is in listening to the birds sing and soothe you. They all have distinct voices and some, like the woodpecker make other sounds you can use to find them with.
- Do it over again. Once you feel you’ve exhausted the bounty of one place, move on to another and start the process again – there’s always somewhere new to explore to find some avian company.
How Do You Get The Most Out Of Bird Watching?
We start with a little homework. You need a field guide (or more than one), we’ve collated 8 of the best here.
A field guide will help you understand where certain birds tend to hang out. It will help you know how to stay safe in the pursuit of birds.
It will also provide you with some decent instructions on what to do and, as important, what not to do when you get off the beaten path.
If you’re in any doubt about this, the ethics guide from the American Birding Association can come in very handy.
Then, you want to look up the weather and make sure that’s in your favor and just check the season (many birds migrate – they’re not there all year round).
Check that any apps you use for birding are installed and updated.
We’ve got a list of some really handy apps here that might help with that.
We’d also recommend that you have a checklist for the gear that you want to take with you, to make sure you don’t forget your favorite lens or pair of bins.
Make Sure You Have The Right Gear
The Importance Of Binoculars
At a minimum we always carry a set of bins. You don’t need to go crazy when you’re first starting out but over time, most birders will invest in a fairly substantive pair of bins.
That’s because they are your first tool in finding and appreciating birds.
If you can’t see any birds because your eyes can’t help and your camera is a bit too bulky to swing around constantly hunting the skies, then birding isn’t much fun.
Fortunately, we have a list of the best sets of binoculars on the market and you’ll be pleased to know, they’re not that expensive, either.
Taking A Camera?
We love smartphone cameras in normal life but for birding? Smartphones are a terrible camera to use.
They can’t zoom far enough and the apertures aren’t fast enough. The images you take will be really poor.
The same is true for standard compact cameras. They’re not meant for birding and while we love the images they can create; you’d be lucky to make one shot in a hundred a keeper.
You’ll want to invest in a decent camera setup for birding which means long telephoto lenses in conjunction with a bridge camera, micro-four thirds camera, APSC camera or a full frame camera.
We’ve got a nice list of the seven best cameras for birdwatching that can help you work out what you want.
A camera isn’t mandatory for bird watching but it is a nice to have.
This is particularly true if you want to share your adventures with others after the fact.
Anyone can claim to have seen a Stresemann’s Bristlefront, for example, but if you’ve got a picture, nobody can dispute that you did.
General Birdwatching Kit
We’d also recommend that you ensure that you have:
- Weather appropriate clothing – if you’re expecting harsh weather conditions, you also might want to take something to change into when the bird watching is done
- A notebook – it can be a lot of fun to sketch birds in the field and to make notes on what you saw and where
- Food and drink – probably not too important if you go to a park that’s 5 minutes’ walk from home but if you’re making a day of things, taking rations can make that day better
- A smartphone – if you get lost or you just need instant information, a well-prepared birder can always get help from their phone
- A first aid kit – we prefer to plan for the worst and hope for the best, if you’re traveling away from home to enjoy nature, it’s a very good idea to be able to patch up any wounds
Find Some Other Birders
With millions of birders in America, there’s no doubt that one thing you can do to instantly improve your bird watching experience is to find some company for your trips.
Birders tend to be very happy to welcome newbies to their world and they easy to find.
- Go on a local bird walk. Find them on Facebook or join something like the Audubon Society to meet experts and other birders.
- Join the Audubon Society anyway. Seriously, they have hundreds of thousands of birders for you to meet.
- Volunteer. There are loads of bird-related charities and projects across the country give them your time and get their gift of knowledge in return.
- Get Birding News. The American Birding Association collates all of this on their website. It’s easy to find.
- Join a Birding Festival. There are lots of festivals throughout the year where birders congregate and you can find a list of them here.
Last Word on Birding for Beginners
So, there you have it. Birding is a super hobby and it’s really easy to get into.
Our introductory guide to birdwatching for beginners should be all you need to get started and have a ton of fun with birds!