Beginner's Guide: The Art of Birdwatching

Birdwatching is a great activity for young and old nature lovers. Some birdwatching basics include understanding an area’s wildlife, bringing the right equipment, and researching birds.

Aug 3, 2023By Colt Dodd
birdwatching for beginners

Birdwatching is more than sitting in a bush for hours with binoculars. It involves being in tune with nature and taking a strategic approach. But where could one begin? And are there any tips for spotting rare birds?

Here, one can learn about the basics of birdwatching and how to get started in this century-old hobby. It’s important to note that patience is at the core of birdwatching. It’s an activity that combines the joy of doing nothing with gazing at nature’s amazing creatures.

Birdwatching 101: How to Get Started

a group of people birdwatching
Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Per the U.S. Department of Education, birdwatching (also called “birding”) is an art and science. It involves:

Having the Right Equipment

Per Audubon, one doesn’t have to spend thousands of dollars to start birdwatching. All they need is a pair of binoculars and a love of the outdoors. However, for those looking to get serious about the hobby, they may also consider getting:

  • A guidebook. There are many birdwatching guidebooks packed with information that can help first-time birdwatchers. Some include information about birds’ calls and colors, while others lean on the more scientific side of things.
  • A camera. Aspiring nature photographers may want to try their hand at birdwatching. A camera designed for birdwatching can deliver crystal-clear photos. The iPhone’s camera only goes so far.
  • A first-aid kit. Safety first! No one wants to call a birdwatching trip quits because they got hurt. Make sure that the first aid kit has Band-Aids, antiseptic, and gauze.
  • A birdcall. Want to attract a certain type of bird? One may invest in a bird caller. They’re not just for hunters; some are designed for the art of attracting birds just for viewing purposes.
a poster of different birds
Image Credit: 1 Wikimedia Commons

Knowing What Birds Are in the Area

There’s nothing wrong with heading out to a national park and just looking at birds. However, to get the most out of one’s experience, one should understand what birds are in their area. For instance, bird lovers in Florida will likely see their fair share of herons and egrets. Yet, those in New York may see more hawks and eagles.

Choosing the Right Area

To get the most out of birdwatching, one should start their trek with a location in mind. Here are some considerations:

  • AllTrails has a free version that allows hikers to view walking trails, reviews, and photos. The app also categorizes routes by easy, moderate, and challenging, so everyone knows what they’re getting into beforehand.
  • Birdwatching shouldn’t have any effect on the environment. So, before going to a state or national park, one should learn the area’s rules first. These rules may limit a park’s hours or restrict certain areas.
  • Seasons matter. For instance, if one wants to see a Canadian goose, Texas A&M University notes that they flock to the region in winter.

Be Patient

The best experiences come from prolonged periods of birdwatching. Frequently moving locations not only create noises (and scares birds off) but also “kills the vibe”, so to speak.

Birdwatching Doesn’t Have to Get Complicated

a close up of a tern
Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons

The best thing about birdwatching is that it doesn’t have to get complicated. It can be as easy or as challenging as the watcher wants it to be. While birdwatching, depending on one’s preferences, one may enjoy:

  • Taking nature photos. As noted, unless the bird is only a few feet away, a smartphone camera won’t capture the raw brilliance. Sony, Nikon, and Canon are perfect for the task.
  • Jotting down notes. Want to feel like a naturalist in the 1800s? One may find joy in jotting down their observations in a notebook. Amazon has many journals online, many of which cost less than $10.
  • Just lookin’. There’s nothing better than living in the moment and just enjoying birds as they fly by.

What Should One Bring on Their Birdwatching Excursion?

a colorful bird on a branch
Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons

What a budding birdwatcher should bring on their trip depends on many factors, including where they’re going. In most cases, one should pack lightly and only bring essentials, such as:

  • A first-aid kit
  • A pair of binoculars
  • Shoes for hiking (no flip-flops!)
  • A journal
  • A bottle of water
  • A backpack

One should also dress appropriately for the weather. For instance, if it’s chilly outside, one should pack a jacket or sweater. If it’s hot, one should dress lightly––and perhaps bring two bottles of water.

Safety Tips When Birdwatching

a small finch on grass
Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Birdwatching is a low-stress activity. Still, watchers must keep their wits about them when taking their next journey. To keep themselves safe, one should:

  • Wear appropriate footwear. Trekking long distances in sandals can quickly get painful. One should wear closed-toe shoes, such as hiking boots. This would prevent animal bites, puncture wounds, and injuries from falling.
  • Check the weather. In some areas, the weather can change quickly. A sunny day could turn into a rainstorm. Nobody wants to be caught off guard and get soaked.
  • Charge their cell phone. The National Audubon Society notes that with a charged cellphone, one could avoid getting lost while on a trail. They also have a way to contact emergency services if an accident happens.
  • Don’t bother the birds. Birds are delicate creatures—and the last thing a bird lover wants to do is hurt one. One should keep their distance from birds and refrain from feeding them. Even feeding a bird bread could cause health problems.
Colt Dodd
By Colt Dodd

Colt Dodd is a sighthound enthusiast with three years of freelance writing experience. He has an Italian greyhound/Shetland sheepdog mix named Homer. In his spare time, he enjoys going to dog parks and writing fiction.