10 Tips For A Backyard Birdwatcher

These birdwatching rules for beginners will help your new hobby take flight.
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We’re living in troubled times, and people are seeking refreshment in nature more than ever. Few activities are exploding in popularity quite like birdwatching, or, as devotees call it, "birding." Birds are easy to see, they're practically everywhere, and they provide a passport to a world away from our complicated and often stressful world. Birding is also a lot of fun, and has also been shown to improve mental health and well-being. In honor of our new book, The Backyard Birdwatchers Bible, here are ten tips to help you get into birding.

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BIRDING IS A LIFESTYLE

The great thing about birding is that it suits anybody. Birds are all around us, so you can enjoy them for a long lazy day or for a snatched moment in a lunch break. It is so inexpensive that anybody can get into it. To start with, just spend a few moments watching, with only the naked eye.

BIRD AT YOUR OWN PACE

Some people launch into birding and it becomes their obsession. Others take it slowly, building up their interest. Start where you’re comfortable, go where you will. The birds will follow.

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EXPLORE YOUR NEIGHBORHOOD

Start your birding locally. There are great birds everywhere, even in cities and neglected wastelands. They are never far away. The backyard is the ideal place for most people to start. Put out some food and the birds will come. Just take the time to look.

LOOK FIRST, IDENTIFY LATER

Birds have a habit of flying away. The best birders look at a bird carefully, checking out its shape, colors, and patterns, making good use of the time it is actually in view. Only then do they work out its identity, using a book like The Backyard Birdwatchers Bible or an app.

GET A PAIR OF BINOCULARS

It’s the only real major expense (at least $200-$300 and you get what you pay for) in birding, but you will find that a pair of binoculars will improve your experience enormously. Just starting out—why not borrow some? Make sure they’re suitable; 8 x 40 is a good specification—check a birding website. To get the most out of them, keep them clean and practice using them

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FIND A BIRDING BUDDY

You might not have noticed, but birders are everywhere and, I promise you, they are almost always friendly and eager to help. Find a local club or online group. You can bird alone or socially but help from an expert is always a bonus.

TRAIN YOUR EARS

It’s never only bird “watching”—the best birders use their ears as much as their eyes. Birds are tunefully noisy, and you can learn to identify them without seeing them. Check out an app or online bird tutor.

GO AT THE BEST TIMES

Birding gets you outdoors and you soon learn natural rhythms. It’s always worth going out in the early morning if you can bear it! Every season has different highlights. Birders love the fall and winter as much as spring and summer.

USE YOUR SMARTPHONE

There are dozens of great apps to help you identify birds by sight or songs. There are local websites to tell you what has been around. You can take photos. You can enter sightings of your own. Become a citizen scientist by entering your sightings on e-bird, as thousands of fellow birders do.

FIT BIRDING INTO YOUR TRAVEL PLANS

Don’t leave for vacation without your binoculars or a bird identification book. Birds are everywhere.