Birdwatching for Beginners

Knowing your area is the most important aspect of beginning a birdwatching hobby. Research where you are, where you are going, and when you are going. Educating yourself on the bird life native to the region will maximize your enjoyment.

Where Should You Go?

Generally, state and national parks provide the best areas for walkers and hikers. Most have trails winding through forests and many have visitor centers where you can obtain information on flora and fauna. Keep in mind that government-maintained parks may have more unique or endangered species. Areas with water, trees, and a good food supply are where you will find these feathered creatures.

What Season and Time Is It?

For beginners, the warmer months will be the most pleasurable time to look for birds. The number of birds around and the nice weather reveal the most positive aspects to novices. There are some bird species that stick around in one area all year but this is the exception to the rule. Birds migrate and they also go where they can find food. This means you will find more birds in the late spring or at the height of summer.

You’ll find the most birds in the wee hours of the morning even though this may not appeal to late risers. The birds sing loud and clear at sunrise as the cool and still air carries their sound further. Additionally, the crowds of people aren’t present at dawn like they are later in the morning and afternoon. Birds are scared away by people so avid birdwatchers start their day when there is less foot traffic.

What Kind of Gear Do I Need?

Spending a chunk of cash may be required especially if you want to see birds that settle high in trees or if you want to capture special moments with photography. Primarily, purchasing a pair of binoculars is important. Without them you may not be able to see the bird clearly enough to determine the species. Fortunately, you don’t have to buy a top-of-the-line binocular that will allow you to see a few hundred feet away.

For sharp and clear photos, a camera with a zoom lens is in order. For a decent model, you’ll need to shell out $300-$400 dollars. Your smartphone no matter how expensive it was will be able to capture a bird sitting on a 50-foot-high branch. A camera that takes great pictures from a distance is essential to bird-photography. If you get too close to the bird, it will naturally fly away! Should you decide that birdwatching just isn’t your thing, at least you’ll have a nice camera to use on your next venture.

Buy yourself a nice journal. You will use this notebook to record the birds you saw and at what time you saw them. You can also write down the descriptions of unfamiliar birds. If you’re not the type to write in journals, type out your discoveries on your smartphone. Using your phone’s voice-recording device is not recommended; you will alarm the birds.

Bring adequate nutrition. A large canteen of water and sodium-free food will keep you hydrated and nourished. Dress for the occasion with appropriate clothing and comfortable shoes. Pants and long sleeves are best in case you should brush against poison ivy. Protective clothing also shields you from UV rays. Don’t wear garish colors. You want to be inconspicuous!

Birdwatching Etiquette

Tread as quietly as you can. Birds are frightened by unfamiliar noises and they will not emerge from their nests or hiding places if they feel threatened. Only observe – do not try to touch the birds, the nests, or their eggs. If you see a baby bird that has fallen from its nest, leave it be. The parents will attempt to locate the baby and bring it to safety.

Other Ideas

There are groups you can join such as the Audubon Society. Some have meet-ups with guides who will be happy to have an amateur along. Birdwatching is quite popular and there are even guided tours you can pay for. This is a great way to introduce yourself to birdwatching. You want your first time to be fun; otherwise you may never do it again!

When doing your research, focus on two or three birds that you will look for. Then go out and find them! Treat yourself to a nice lunch or dinner if you find the birds on your list.

It’s all about attitude. So you didn’t find any birds. So they all flew away before you could capture a picture. Just being out in nature, among the trees, the warmth, and the sunlight should be enough. If the first time was not fruitful, don’t let it discourage you from doing it again. Write down a list of reasons why your first foray may not have been successful and then solve those problems next time around. Like any new hobby or interest, practicing is intrinsic to getting results.

By Gabrielle Allemeier


References: Birding for Beginners
Audobon: How To Begin Birding
National Park Service: Birding for Beginners

About the Author
Gabrielle Allemeier volunteers her free time as an animal rescuer and foster pet parent. As an animal lover, she enjoys sharing the knowledge she has gained from her experience with a variety of animals. Along with being an animal lover, Gabrielle is a globetrotter. She lives in Los Angeles, California with her terrier, Thisbe.