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How to Start Bird Watching? – A Beginner’s Guide

Bird-watching or birding is a great hobby to take up to feel connected to Mother Nature.

Making a bird-friendly backyard is the easiest way to be a regular bird-watcher and study their behavior. But going in the wild, investing in some gadgets, camera, field guides, clothing, and expanding the network is a must for any beginner to get into the real thrill of birding. 

Some gadgets and a backyard cannot ensure your safe and successful birding. You need to be aware of some tactics, etiquette, equipment, times and places.


How to Start Bird Watching?

Birding at home is all good and comfy but it cannot provide the thrill of birding in natural habitats or wild areas. If you want to take up birding as a regular hobby and explore places to know more about the birds you need these things listed below are necessary 

  • Get a Field or Bird Guide
  • Bird Apps and Websites 
  • Expand Your Connection
  • Birding Vest and Clothing

 

  1. Get a Field or Bird Guide

For beginners, identifying different birds seems as confusing as telling sauce from ketchup. So if you do not want to be confused while birding, get your hands on some field or bird guides. They will help you explore, identify, and learn more about different species, especially regional ones. 

Though you can identify birds through different mobile apps, those are not easy to use or understand. Also, if you are not tech-savvy you can always prefer these paper books over the apps.

These guides come in different sizes, shapes, and formats. I suggest you keep three to four varieties of them. If you want to bird-watch around your city or region, a bird ID card is the best option to keep. Its contents are simple to understand for beginners. Also, it is lightweight, easy to fold, and waterproof. So, you can carry it around in any weather. 

Bird ID cards are inexpensive and easily available at any park visitor center. This guide lists down all the common species. So, if you want to bird-watch and explore exotic species, this guide is not for you. However, it is a good one for the teenagers willing to start birding.

 

If you are good at identifying different color shades, get a field guide arranged in color codes. It helps you to quickly identify birds by the colors of their legs, bill, or collar. 

A guide that contains bird illustrations and photographs is also a must for beginners. The illustration portrays the most prominent features of different species. And photographs give a precise representation. Also, they arrange species by shapes for your convenience. 

But if you are not up for getting several guides, consider keeping a book arranged taxonomically. It lists down almost all birds by their families. But it is a little difficult to understand. You need to observe the birds, take notes of their features and behavior, and then read the book. Only after that, you can identify the birds. 

Just to let you know, you can certainly start birding without these books but it will take away most of the fun. Because all birds will appear the same to you and you will not be able to decide what sort of bird activities you are up for. 

 

  1. Bird Apps and Website

You can bring birding resources to your phone if you install some apps and explore websites. These digital tools make birding easier for beginners. 

You should download the Song Sleuth app to identify bird species by their chorus or the sounds they make. While birding, just record the bird songs in search for its origin. And it will suggest the possible species. Once you confirm which singing bird you heard, you can explore this app’s website to learn more about those birds. 

The Internet network is not strong enough in the wild or sometimes you might run out of mobile data. For those moments, you should install an offline app eBird. It lets you write down about the birds and also provides a checklist option to identify birds. Once you submit the checklist, it will let you know which birds you explored and their specialties. 

You can also explore the xeno-canto website to identify and share bird calls. Many other birders have shared the recordings of bird calls from all around the world. And listening to them can help you identify what you heard and why birds produce such calls. 

If there is no good park in your area for birding, you should either explore the nearby birding sites listed on audobon website or in their app. This digital guide is best for beginner birders who prefer technology to gain knowledge about different bird species. 

 

 

  1. Expand Your Connection

Birding is more fun with a group of people who share the same interests in the little fliers. Also, you can learn better about birding ethics and species from experienced birders. And birding with a group is more secure and comfortable. Because they can lead you so that you do not feel overwhelmed. 

To connect more with the people who are just as passionate about birds, you should look for birding groups on different social media sites. Especially on Facebook and Twitter. Joining such a community will help you to develop birding skills and opportunities.

 

It is better if you can get a bird club membership. There are many clubs available online, you just need to join the one nearby you. These clubs organize birding expeditions and outings from time to time. And they will email you and announce when and where to come for the next bird walk. 

 

  1. Birding Vest and Clothing

You should keep your comfort and convenience in mind while dressing for birding. But you should not wear anything in bright colors, especially white. Most birds consider it to be a dangerous warning and they fly away. So, if you are in a rural or grassland area, wear anything in gray, brown, or green which will blend in with the natural habitat.

Do remember that if you are starting this journey exclusively with pretty Hummingbirds, you should wear bright colors. Because orange, red, and yellow always attract Hummingbirds. 

During a bird walk, it is very necessary to have comfortable footwear. Otherwise, your ankle might hurt, and might not feel motivated to continue. So if you are going to a woodland or rocky trail, wear hiking boots that support your ankle. And rubber boots for muddy trails. But if it is a Broadwalk, sturdy sandals will also do.

You should bring back fond memories, not sunburns from your first birding. So consider going out with a brimmed hat on a sunny day. It will keep the sun rays out of your sight so that you can get a clear view of the birds. 

To carry all the necessary stuff, especially a water bottle, you should keep a birding vest. It’s a bag with enough pockets to hold stuff like a notebook, phone, guide, and other birding gadgets. 

 

What Gadgets Do You Need for Birding?

Honestly speaking if you want to bird-watch from your home only, you do not need anything other than binoculars. But if you want to travel far to give it a start and continue, you need to up your game. So, consider investing in these beginner-friendly gadgets for a long and safe run

  • Binoculars
  • Personal Locator Beacon
  • LED Headlamp
  • GPS or smartphone
  • Portable Solar Power Bank
  • Monocular with Phone Holder

 

 

    1. Binoculars 

A pair of binoculars is a must if you want to watch birds across the lake, sitting at tall trees, and murmuration. Also, with naked eyes, you cannot get a better view of the nocturnal species. 

If you are deciding to go birding only at a nearby forest with tall trees, an 8×42 mm or 10×42 mm set of binoculars is good to go. But if you want to watch roosting or nesting sites across the lake, you need a bit more powerful lens than that. A good pair of binoculars can also capture hatchling behavior in the roost. 

 

Before you step outside, you need to clean and adjust the settings so that you do not get blurry views. Take a lens wipe and clean the glass. Then open the eyecups to adjust the pair according to your comfort. Make sure your binoculars are waterproof and lightweight so that you can carry them along anytime. 

A flock of bird’s twists and swirls in the sky to make something called murmuration. And to get an up-close view of this aerial dance or to document their pattern, a pair of binoculars is a must. 

 

    1. Personal Locator Beacon (PLB)

PLB is a must-have whether you want to go birding alone or with a group. Danger awaits you in the wild and this gadget is the superhero to get you out of any trouble. If you are up for nocturnal species, never forget to take this with you.

As a beginner, you can forget your way back home or your group might lose track of you. But this tool will send a distress signal so that the rescue team can locate you and save you from life-threatening situations. 

 

    1. LED Headlamp

If you choose to go birding after dusk or at dawn, you should keep it with you. This will give you enough light to avoid any potential threat in the dark and to get your way out of the forest safely. 

This comes with different light modes so that you can adjust the lighting you need according to the weather or surrounding. 

Try to buy a headlamp that has a red light. Because white light can disrupt the nocturnal activities of the owls. And they might not come out to prey. And also, white light disrupts the sleep pattern of the diurnal species. But the birds cannot see red lights at night. So, if you do not want to miss out on nocturnal fliers and disrupt others, get ones with red light. 

 

    1. Portable Solar Power Bank

Just imagine you packed all the life-saving and useful gadgets but they run out of battery right when you need them the most. So, keep these solar power banks in your birding vest to charge the gadgets when needed. 

While birding you need to use many bird apps or GPS. And for that reason, during the day, you need to use full brightness to see the phone screen clearly. So, the battery tends to die faster. And you cannot capture photos or get in touch with anyone for help. But the power bank can save you big time. Don’t worry about the weight, they are easy to carry and fit into the vest. 

 

    1. Monocular with Phone Holder

If you need to take good pictures, get yourself a monocular. The phone cannot capture distant views clearly. So placing a monocular in front of the phone helps you to do the job. Yeah, you can get a DSLR camera, but compared to monocular cameras, those are much more expensive

Just make sure to get a handheld one so that you can skip the tripod and save bucks. Using a 12×50 monocular is more than enough for beginners. It comes with a manual guide to help you in attaching the phone to this gadget. With this device, you mitigate the possibility of scaring birds. Because you do not need to go too close to them to get good pictures.

 

You Can Start Bird Watching From Your Home

If you happen to be a homebody but willing to start birding, you do not even have to go much far for it. Because you can bird-watch in your own backyard once you make it bird-friendly. The more natural it will look; the more birds will come. To get into birding from your home’s comfort follow these steps below. 

  • Keep Some Bird Feeders 
  • Make Water Resource 
  • Create an Isolated Spot
  • Use Organic Fertilizers and Grow Wild Area
  • Plant Native Plants 

 

 

  1. Keep Some Bird Feeders

If you want to observe varieties of birds foraging, do remember to offer food. You can certainly keep food in any wider dish available. But it cannot attract a variety of them. It is not bird-friendly. So, you should invest in a bird feeder.

Make sure the feeders you buy are squirrel proof so that no other critters can invade the food resources. Otherwise, it will attract raccoons, squirrels, and raptors too. And most birds are likely to avoid places with these critters. Of course, they do not want to be their predator’s meal. 

But make sure to study first which species are mostly flying around in your region. If you are in a temperate region, you are likely to observe Hummingbirds more. For them keep a Hummingbird feeder in the backyard. It is specially designed to make foraging easier for these tiny birds.

There are different types of feeders available out there. You should at least keep three to four varieties of them. Especially placing one ground feeder and one platform feeder is a must. Because different birds have different foraging behaviors. Some of them like to stay down-to-earth literally and forage from the ground. Whilst others from a height. 

Many beginner bird watchers think it is not necessary to keep different foods in the feeders. But just like you, birds have their dietary preferences too. Even some frugivore do not eat anything but fruits. For them, you need to cut fruits in pieces and keep them in the feeders. 

While foraging, birds socialize with one another and sometimes even dance. If you want to capture those moments up close, place a window feeder 3 feet away from the window. So that they don’t hit the window and you can watch them without scaring them. 

 

 

  1. Make Water Resource 

Birds look for water resources as throughout the day the diurnal species drink water. And they take a bath too in mid-afternoon. So, make sure to keep a birdbath to attract a variety of them.

Do remember that birds do not like still water with no movement. Also, standing water is more likely to go stagnant or attract mosquitos or other miniatures to lay eggs. And it can spread disease. You definitely do not want to treat your feathered friends badly. So keep a water wiggler for bird mister in the birdbath to keep the water moving.

 

  1. Create an Isolated Spot

If you want the comfort of bird watching from home, you need to put in the extra effort to make an isolated spot in your backyard. Birds will not gather at your place if there is too much activity going on in the backyard. 

You do not have to tiptoe around if you separate an area where you and your family will play yard games or spend time from bird-spot. Birds do not like getting too close to humans and pets. It scares them. Especially when you are playing around and making noise. 

Watch out for what your pets, especially cats do. They definitely cannot understand the “only for birds” label. So if your kitty or pets invade the bird’s spot, take them to a different spot. Otherwise, they will chase the poor birds and may kill some of them. So be a responsible birder and send a friendly signal to the birds by creating a safe zone for them.

 

 

  1. Use Organic Fertilizers and Grow Wild Area

It seems that birds also live by the “sharing is caring” principle. So, whenever they find good food resources they will inform and invite other birds to join them. And the same is the case when there is any threat awaiting them. Especially if it’s exposure to toxic fertilizers.

If you use chemical fertilizers or pesticides for your backyard, it can even kill the birds playing or foraging around there. And if this happens, birds are likely to never visit your place. So make your bird-friendly backyard safer by using organic fertilizers for your lawn maintenance. 

You can also skip mowing the bird’s spot for several months so that it can naturally grow levels of vegetation. This wild area will attract native insects. And these tactics can attract more birds to make your birding a hit. 

 

  1. Plant Native Plants

Having native plants in your backyard gives the birds a sense of a natural and safe environment. And sometimes some of them can even choose such a natural backyard for nesting sites and shelter. 

You can get different native plants from your nearby Botanical Garden. Get Sunflowers and Bee Balm more to attract different types of birds. Especially the ones who collect nectars. 

Do not forget to keep layered vegetation. And to do that you can grow different types and sizes of shrubs and plants. If your backyard already has dense shrubs or bushes do not prune them. It will attract the birds to be permanent residents. And you can start each day with birding.  

 

What Is the Best Time for Birding?

Always consider stepping out at dawn or predusk to see a flock of birds. These are the times they sing harmoniously to attract other birds. Especially at predusk, you might get to see varieties of birds migrating and foraging. 

It is quite difficult to observe nocturnal species. But step out after dusk and at midnight to observe the charismatic owls and to listen to their mystic calls. But you need to hide so that they can come out.

 

Best Places for Bird Watching

The best places to observe different species are wetland habitats, Broadwalk, snowy terrain, and forests. Wetland or near the lakes, sea beaches, ponds, streams you will get to see many fliers, especially gulls and loon species. And snowy terrain is good to witness nocturnal birds. 

For beginners, taking a stroll at any Broadwalk of National parks is a better choice to learn about the local birds. You can expect to see fruit doves, songbirds, and wood pecks. There is a beginner-friendly information panel about the birds as well.

Try to avoid going to the places where rare and endangered species live. Because most of them are extremely sensitive to the slightest of sounds. Even when you keep heavy steps on the plant litter. So do not add any more potential threats for them. 

 

Birding Etiquettes and Ethics Every Birder Must Know

Birding is not only about getting all your gadgets ready and stepping out, it is also about being responsible towards the fliers, environment, and fellow birders. Before you start birding, take notes of some of these ethics to practice during the bird-walk. 

There are many recordings of different bird calls and songs available on the internet. Using these recordings is a great tactic to attract specific birds. But sometimes they do not arrive within your site even after listening to the calls. It’s probably because it is their time to hide from predators. So, you should stop playing them after two to three clicks. 

It is unethical to overuse those calls. Because it can create noise pollution and bother other wildlings too. So be considerate enough to use the calls in limit.

Do not get too close to the birds’ nesting sites to capture photos. The flash photography will scare them and they will leave the place. Sometimes they will show signs of agitation to keep you away. In such a scenario, always keep distance from the nesting sites to respect their space. 

While birding anywhere, you should never dump or leave human food for the birds. Especially the processed ones. These foods do no good to them. Because after eating these they do not feel hungry for hours. And they skip foraging for insects. And without their natural foods, they fail to adapt to the temperature at night. So always use a trash bag to dump the waste.

Sometimes you might come across nests with no parent birds. They leave the hatchlings alone there while foraging. And sometimes they leave the kids alone for several days for young birds’ development.  Just because parents are not around you must not touch the young ones. Because it will leave a scent behind and predators will attack the hatchlings. 

On your bird expedition, you might encounter some wounded birds. Especially lying around on the ground. And you should immediately call the local wildlife care center. If no one picks up the call, mail them the location and picture of the bird. 

You should know your boundaries and limits before getting into birding. Never be disrespectful to other birders. And never get into anyone’s private property for a better view of the birds. And do not go off-trail. It can create an environmental disturbance.

 

Watching birds and exploring their habitats is a great way to learn about the environment and biodiversity.

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