Getting Started With Birdwatching | Beginners Guide

Everything you need to know to get started birdwatching

Are you ready to get started?

Birdwatching, or birding, is taking flight in popularity worldwide. According to a 2022 U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service report, around 96.3 million people in the U.S. engage in birdwatching (U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, 2022, p. 30)! The trend is global. In the UK alone, bird watching ranks as the second most popular hobby after gardening, with the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) reporting over 3 million participants and 1.2 million members. In Australia, more than half a million people are active bird watchers, and in India, the number of bird watching tours and events is steadily growing. With birding apps, online communities, and affordable gear, there’s never been a better time to start. Dive into our beginner’s guide and join the Global Birding Initiative Community to experience the joy of birdwatching!


Benefits of Birdwatching


Birdwatching Gear

Like any hobby, there is some essential gear needed for birdwatching. To start, you’ll need a good bird ID app, a field guide, a weatherproof notebook, and comfy clothes. As you progress along your journey of birding, binoculars can be a valuable piece of gear to get the most out of this hobby.

Birdwatching/Birding Apps

Birdwatching apps have become essential tools for modern birders, offering a wide range of features to enhance the birdwatching experience. Here are some of the most popular and highly recommended birdwatching apps:

Merlin Bird ID by Cornell Lab of Ornithology

Features: Easy-to-use bird identification tool with photo and audio identification capabilities. Also has a comprehensive species database with detailed information and maps.

Apple: Merlin Bird ID for Apple

Android: Merlin Bird ID for Android

eBird by Cornell Lab of Ornithology

Features: Allows users to record and share bird sightings, provides real-time data on bird distribution and abundance, and access to personal birding lists and regional checklists.

Apple: eBird for Apple

Android: eBird for Android

Audubon Bird Guide by National Audubon Society

Features: Extensive field guide with detailed species descriptions, photos, and sounds, birding journal for tracking sightings, bird alerts, and migration maps.

Apple: Audubon Bird Guide for Apple

Android: Audubon Bird Guide for Android

iBird Pro Guide to Birds by Mitch Waite Group

Features: Detailed species profiles with illustrations, photos, and range maps, search and filter options for easy identification, and bird song and call recordings.

Apple: iBird Pro Guide to Birds for Apple

Android:

These birdwatching apps provide a range of tools and resources to help birders identify, track, and enjoy birds more effectively. Each app offers unique features, from identification and field guides to real-time sightings and bird calls, making them invaluable companions for birdwatchers at any level.

Field Guides

Birdwatching field guides are indispensable tools for both novice and experienced birders. They offer a wealth of information on bird species, including identification tips, habitat descriptions, and behavioral notes. Field guides typically include high-quality illustrations or photographs, maps, and detailed descriptions to help birders accurately identify and understand the birds they encounter in the wild. Whether you’re just starting your birdwatching journey or looking to deepen your knowledge, a good field guide can enhance your experience by providing the necessary knowledge and confidence to identify and appreciate the diverse avian life around you.

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“National Geographic Field Guide to the Birds of North America”

Description: This guide is updated regularly to include the latest information on bird species, with detailed maps, photographs, and illustrations. Its regular updates and thorough content make it a reliable choice for beginners and experienced birders alike, frequently recommended on birdwatching forums.

Pros: Comprehensive and up-to-date, high-quality photographs and illustrations, portable and field-friendly size.

Cons: Some users find the extensive information overwhelming.

“The Sibley Guide to Birds” by David Allen Sibley

Description: Widely regarded as one of the best bird field guides, it offers detailed illustrations and comprehensive information on over 810 species. This guide is highly praised in birdwatching forums for its meticulous detail and accuracy, making it an excellent choice for beginners seeking thorough information.

Pros: High-quality and accurate illustrations, extensive species coverage, helpful range maps and species comparison.

Cons: Slightly bulky for field use.

“Peterson Field Guide to Birds of North America”

Description: Known for its user-friendly layout, this guide provides helpful tips for identifying birds using arrows and text to highlight key field marks.

Pros: Beginner-friendly with clear identification tips, logical organization and easy navigation, compact and portable.

Cons: Illustrations may be less detailed compared to the Sibley Guide.

“Kaufman Field Guide to Birds of North America” by Kenn Kaufman

Description: This guide uses digitally enhanced photographs to highlight key identification features, making it straightforward and easy to use. Frequently recommended for beginners, this guide is appreciated for its clarity and visual aids, making it a go-to resource in birdwatching communities.

Pros: User-friendly with simplified information, clear and enhanced digital photos, lightweight and portable.

Cons: Preference for traditional illustrations might be a downside for some.

Binoculars

Man Looking in Binoculars during Sunset

While not necessary, many consider binoculars as an essential tool for birdwatching. They allow birdwatchers to view details from a distance without disturbing the natural behavior of birds, which is crucial for observing shy or rare species. The magnification provided by binoculars also brings birds visually closer, making it easier to appreciate subtle features and behaviors that would be impossible to see with the naked eye.

Additionally, quality binoculars can significantly improve visibility in various lighting conditions, helping to identify birds during dawn, dusk, or in densely wooded areas where light is scarce. A good pair of binoculars not only increases the identification accuracy, but also enhances the overall enjoyment and satisfaction of birdwatching. Here are some of the most popular, affordable binoculars that are ideal for beginners.

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Celestron Nature DX 8×42

Price Range: Affordable, typically under $150.

Optical Quality: Multi-coated optics for good light transmission and clear images.

Ease of Use: Lightweight and easy to handle, ideal for beginners.

Features: Waterproof, fog-proof, rubber-armored for durability.

Nikon Prostaff P3 8×42

Price Range: Budget-friendly, usually around $100-$150.

Optical Quality: Bright and clear images with multi-layer coatings.

Ease of Use: Comfortable grip, long eye relief suitable for glasses wearers.

Features: Waterproof, fog-proof, rubber-armored for durability

Bushnell H2O Waterproof 8×42

Price Range: Very affordable, generally under $100.

Optical Quality: Good clarity and brightness for the price.

Ease of Use: Non-slip rubber armor for a secure grip, easy to use focus knob.

Features: Waterproof, fog-proof, and durable construction.

Vortex Crossfire HD 8×42

Price Range: Affordable, typically around $150.

Optical Quality: HD optical system for sharp and bright images.

Ease of Use: Lightweight and well-balanced design, suitable for extended use.

Features: Waterproof, fog-proof, and comes with a lifetime warranty.


Great Places to Birdwatch

Birdwatching is an enjoyable and accessible hobby for people of all ages. For beginners, finding the right locations can make all the difference in having a successful and enjoyable experience. Here are some of the best places for novice birdwatchers, each offering easy access, a variety of bird species, and supportive environments for learning.

Local Parks

Photo of Man Jogging on Paved Pathway

Overview: Local parks are ideal for beginners due to their accessibility and variety of habitats.

Key Features: Well-maintained trails, open spaces, and water features like ponds and streams.

Example Locations: Central Park (New York, USA), Hyde Park (London, UK), Stanley Park (Vancouver, Canada).

Tips: Visit early in the morning or late in the afternoon when birds are most active.

Botanical Gardens

Overview: Botanical gardens often have diverse plant life that attracts a variety of bird species.

Key Features: Lush gardens, shaded areas, and educational resources like plant labels and information boards.

Example Locations: Kew Gardens (London, UK), Brooklyn Botanic Garden (New York, USA), Singapore Botanic Gardens.

Tips: Take advantage of guided tours or birdwatching events often hosted by botanical gardens.

Hummingbird on Red Flower

Nature Reserves

Yellow billed great heron with white plumage sitting with dragonfly on long beak in grass on bank of swamp

Overview: Nature reserves provide protected areas where birds thrive, making them excellent spots for birdwatching.

Key Features: Designated birdwatching spots, informative signage, and sometimes visitor centers with resources.

Example Locations: RSPB Minsmere (Suffolk, UK), Everglades National Park (Florida, USA), Kruger National Park (South Africa).

Tips: Bring a field guide or use a birdwatching app to help identify species.

Urban Green Spaces

Overview: Urban green spaces offer surprising opportunities for birdwatching within city limits.

Key Features: Public parks, community gardens, and waterfronts that attract birds.

Example Locations: Millennium Park (Chicago, USA), The Royal Botanic Garden (Sydney, Australia), Parc des Buttes-Chaumont (Paris, France).

Tips: Look for birds around water features and flowering plants that attract insects.

Popular city sight and landmark in park

Wetlands and Marshes

Gray Bird on Ground Near Water

Overview: Wetlands and marshes are rich habitats for a variety of waterfowl and wading birds.

Key Features: Boardwalks, observation towers, and plentiful bird species.

Example Locations: Bombay Hook National Wildlife Refuge (Delaware, USA), WWT Slimbridge (Gloucestershire, UK), Kakadu National Park (Australia).

Tips: Wear waterproof footwear and bring insect repellent for a comfortable experience.

Backyards

Overview: Your own backyard can be a great place to start birdwatching, especially with some simple enhancements.

Key Features: Bird feeders, bird baths, and native plants that attract birds.

Tips: Set up feeders and baths to attract birds, and keep a journal of the species you observe.

Check out our The Ultimate Guide to Backyard Birding: Tips and Tricks for Bird Enthusiasts for a comprehensive guide to backyard birding!

Red Cardinal Bird Perched on White Wooden Fence

Tips and Tricks for Successful Birdwatching

Get the Right Gear

Getting the right gear can make a big difference in your birdwatching experience. Invest in a good pair of binoculars with a magnification of 8x or 10x for a clear view. Carry a field guide specific to your region or use an app to help identify birds. Finally, keep a birdwatching journal for jotting down species you observe as well as the date, location, and any notable behaviors you observed. Over time, this journal will become a valuable record of reference for your birdwatching experiences.

Learn Bird Calls and Songs

Familiarize yourself with the calls and songs of the common birds in your area or the birding destinations that you will be visiting. This helps in identifying birds that are difficult to spot visually.

Choose the Right Locations and Times

Visit local parks, nature reserves, and wetlands where birds are abundant are some of the best places you can go for birding. Early mornings and late afternoons are the best times for birdwatching when birds are most active.

Dress Appropriately

Wear neutral-colored clothing to blend into the environment and avoid startling birds. Dress in layers to stay comfortable in varying weather conditions. Prepare ahead by checking local weather forecast.

Be Patient and Still

Birds are often wary of movement, so stay still and practice patience to increase your chances of spotting them. Move slowly and quietly when you need to change your position.

Use Bird Feeders and Water Sources

Set up bird feeders and water sources in your backyard to attract birds. This provides opportunities to observe birds up close. Check out our Backyard Birding Ultimate Guide for setting up a bird haven in your backyard to attract birds!

Join a Birdwatching Group or Club

Connect with local birdwatching groups to learn from experienced birders and participate in group outings.

Respect Wildlife and Nature

Always respect wildlife and nature! Avoid disturbing birds, their nests, and their habitats. Follow the principles of ethical birdwatching, such as maintaining a safe distance and not using playback calls excessively.

Practice Makes Perfect

Birdwatching can be so rewarding. The more time you spend birdwatching, the better you will become at spotting and identifying different species. Keep practicing and enjoy the process!


Conclusion

Birdwatching offers countless benefits, from enhancing mental well-being to fostering a deeper connection with nature. Equipped with essential gear such as birdwatching apps, field guides, and quality binoculars, beginners are well-prepared to explore great birdwatching spots like local parks and wetlands. By following practical tips and tricks, such as being patient and observant, you’ll maximize your birdwatching experience.

Embrace this rewarding hobby and start your birdwatching journey today! Follow us on social media for more tips, updates, and community stories. Happy birding!


References

U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service. (2022). 2022 National Survey of Fishing, Hunting, and Wildlife-Associated Recreation. Retrieved from https://www.fws.gov/media/2022-national-survey-fishing-hunting-and-wildlife-associated-recreation

Peterson, M. N., Larson, L. R., Hipp, A., Beall, J. M., Lerose, C., Desrochers, H., Lauder, S., Torres, S., Tarr, N. A., Stukes, K., Stevenson, K., & Martin, K. L. (2024). Birdwatching linked to increased psychological well-being on college campuses: A pilot-scale experimental study. Journal of Environmental Psychology, 96, 102306. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jenvp.2024.102306

Stobbe, E., Sundermann, J., Ascone, L. et al. Birdsongs alleviate anxiety and paranoia in healthy participants. Sci Rep 12, 16414 (2022). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41598-022-20841-0

Abrahamczyk, S.,  Weigend, M.,  Becker, K.,  Dannenberg, L. S.,  Eberz, J.,  Atella-Hödtke, N., &  Steudel, B.(2022).  Influence of plant reproductive systems on the evolution of hummingbird pollination. Ecology and Evolution,  12, e8621. https://doi.org/10.1002/ece3.8621