Bird-Watching Basics

Home & Family, Outdoors
on October 1, 2011

Looking to start a new hobby? Like birds? Try birding. Here’s how to get started.

Get a field guide. There’s a difference between bird-watching and looking at birds. Bird-watchers have a field guide, a book with pictures of birds and how to identify them. Birding.com suggests the Peterson Field Guide to Eastern Birds or the Peterson Field Guide to Western Birds to get started. Once you’ve gained a little experience, you’ll want to graduate to the National Geographic Field Guide to the Birds of North America. If you have young children, check out the Peterson First Guide: Birds or the Stokes Field Guides.

Get the right equipment. Experts can tell you all you’d ever want to know about a bird by seeing it from a hundred yards away. You are, however, not yet an expert. Beginners should invest in a high-quality set of bird-watching binoculars. High-quality binoculars for bird-watching, although more expensive than standard binoculars, provide a much clearer view of the bird and a much more rewarding experience.

Know the area. There are birding hotspots in every state in the United States, each with its unique bird-watching opportunities. These areas provide checklists of birds you are likely to see. Find out where the birds on the checklist live. Discover if the bird prefers treetops, lakes or the ground. Learn identifying marks. Find out what songs certain birds sing. Most people don’t find what they’re looking for because they don’t know what they’re looking for or where to find it. By learning the area, you’ll know exactly what you’re looking for and exactly where to look.

Learn all you can about birds. You don’t need to be out bird-watching to learn about birds. Birder’s World, Bird Watcher’s Digest, Birding and WildBird magazines contain information on where to find birds and tips for finding them. They also can teach you how to attract birds right into your own back yard. You don’t have to wait for someone else to write about birds in order to learn about them. Keep a bird diary.

Team up. Bird-watchers are a united bunch. Join a birding group in your area and learn from more experienced bird-watchers, most of whom are more than happy to help you progress in your new hobby. Find local and regional birding organizations by contacting the local Audubon Society, the local nature center or parks commission, or the local bird club. Audubon Society members and other bird enthusiasts may lead field trips in your area or advertise bird tours. Take advantage of these opportunities.

Most importantly, have fun and enjoy the birds.