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Some people liken bird-watching to hunting without weapons. When you seek to find and identify birds in the wild, you must spend time in the birds' natural habitats watching and listening for signs of the creatures. When you find them, your goal will be to identify them and note when and where you saw each species. Birders often enjoy the thrill of the hunt for sightings of new or elusive creatures.

Getting Started With Binoculars

Because it's usually impossible to get close to birds in their natural habitat, birders rely on binoculars to bring the birds into focus from a distance. An effective pair of binoculars for a beginner can be relatively inexpensive. These tools are also quite easy to use. Before purchasing, read reviews and ask questions of experienced birders to ensure that you purchase binoculars that will fit your needs.

  • Binoculars and Beyond: Nine Tips for Beginning Bird-Watchers: A good pair of binoculars will magnify images crisply while providing a wide enough lens for keeping subjects in view.
  • Beginning Birders' Guide (PDF): Binoculars have a specific magnification power and lens measurement. A beginner might choose a magnification power or 7 or 8 and a lens measurement of between 35 and 42.
  • Some Tips to Help You Get Started Birding: Binoculars are one of the first investments for a beginning birder. The better magnification and larger the lens, the easier it will be to find and observe birds.
  • An Introduction for Beginning Birders (PDF): Two factors to consider when choosing binoculars is their weight and the flex of the barrels for adjustment.
  • Using Binoculars (PDF): With binoculars in hand, search the surroundings for a bird to view. After locating a bird, bring the binoculars to the eyes while keeping the bird in sight. Noting a reference point near the bird can help you find it through the binoculars.
  • Birding Lesson (PDF): The initial setting of binoculars involves lining up the right lens, looking through them, moving the hinged sides for comfort, and focusing the binoculars with the center wheel.
  • Birding Equipment: How to Use Binoculars: Some birders use a spotting scope in addition to binoculars. A spotting scope enables you to see farther into the distance.
  • Binos for Birders (PDF): Testing binoculars before purchase is an important step to ensure that you choose a pair that fits your eyes and your birding style.

When to Watch

The most common time to watch birds is in the early morning. Many birders rise before the sun rises to be out in the natural habitat while it is still dark. This gives birders a chance to see and hear the birds as they become active around sunrise. This is often the best time to hear bird songs and calls.

Finding Birds

Birds live in specific areas according to the climate and topographical surroundings. Using a field guide specific to a geographical area will help with finding and identifying birds. A paperback bird guide is a common tool in the backpack of a birder. Some birders prefer a high-tech bird guide installed on a mobile device, which can help with identifying calls and markings.

  • Bird-Watching Helps Children Become Nature-Wise (PDF): Birds have field markings that birders use to identify them. Field markings include color, size, bill shape, body shape, wing shape, feature color, and eye color.
  • Guide to North American Birds: This online bird guide enables you to search for birds by region and taxonomic family.
  • Birds Are Awesome: A field guide in book format is a common birding tool. Some birders prefer to use an app on their mobile device to identify birds.
  • Field Guide to Birds: Key characteristics to note about birds include their breast pattern, belly pattern, back pattern, eye color, bill shape, primary color, and size.
  • The World of Birds: Explore the birds included on this website, clicking on images to learn more about common birds.
  • Wings of the Woods (PDF): After spotting a bird, identify it by noting its field markings and looking them up in a field guide.

Birding Ethics

Birding ethics are an important component of successful birding. The main tenet of birding ethics is to do no harm and to not change the natural habitat in any way. This means that your presence should not disrupt birds or cause them anxiety. By making bird welfare a priority, you will be following birding ethics.

  • Intro to Bird-Watching (PDF): Birding ethics involve taking care not to disturb habitats and birds while observing them. Always stay on established paths.
  • The Complete List of Ethical Birding Guidelines (PDF): Birding ethics stipulate always putting the birds' welfare before anything else, so birders must stay aware of their surroundings.
  • Code of Ethics (PDF): Using recordings to attract birds can cause harm in some situations, so it's best to limit use of recordings.
  • Code of Birding Ethics (PDF): Birders must stay well away from nests and nesting areas to avoid disrupting birds. Do not enter private property without permission.
  • Principles of Birding Ethics (PDF): Experienced birders can set a positive example of ethical and respectful birding to help teach novices the appropriate way to observe birds.
  • Overview of Birding Ethics (PDF): Attracting birds with food or nesting materials can be a good way to observe them from a window, but this can also put them at risk of being attacked by predators in some situations.
  • Support of Birding Ethics (PDF): Take home everything you bring with you when birding to leave the habitat exactly as you found it.

Bird Identification

While visual identification is an important part of identifying birds, this is not the only method. Birders also pay close attention to bird calls and songs they hear in the wild because they may be able to identify birds by hearing alone and not sight. Birds' field markings are distinctive for each species. This enables birders to identify them.

  • Get Started Bird-Watching (PDF): Birds have distinctive calls and songs that enable birders to identify them by hearing. Listening to recordings of bird calls and songs will help you with identification.
  • How to Look at a Bird (PDF): A bird's behavior, coloring, and patterns are field marks that help you identify the species.
  • Bird Identification Checklist: Activities a bird may be doing can help with identification. For example, if the bird is flying continually, perched, hopping, running, wading, or swimming, these actions will be characteristic of specific species.
  • Bird-Watching Made Elementary: After spotting a bird in the wild, watch it to note its physical characteristics, such as size, color, shape, and behavior. Even if the bird flies away, you may be able to look it up in a field guide to identify it.

Birding Clubs

Birding clubs operate locally as a way to support and assist birders. People often join birding clubs to learn about the hobby, to meet other birders, and to find information about the best places to observe birds. Some birding clubs also operate online to guide and support birders with information and resources. Birding clubs often organize field trips to bird-watch.

  • Bird-Watching: Joining a birding club helps a beginning birder learn more about the hobby and equipment as well as the best places to find birds.
  • Bird-Watching Club for World Travelers: Birding Pal is an online club for birders that provides support for people birding around the world.
Article written by Lexi Westingate
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