Bird watching is an enjoyable and inexpensive hobby. With binoculars, a field guide and only a few minutes of your day, you can get started on a beautiful and educational journey.
Bird watching for pleasure has been around since the late 19th century. For many “birders,” the thrill is found in completing a check list of birds they’ve spotted. Some will travel great distances to check off a rare species. But the great thing about this hobby is you don’t have to leave your own backyard.
To get started, you’ll want to use a field guide or do some research on the Internet to determine what species are in your area. Check out what the birds look like, as well as what they sound like. Oftentimes you’ll have better luck finding and identifying a bird based on its call rather than looking for and identifying it visually. This is known as “auditory birding.”
Below are some resources you can use to learn more about the basics, what equipment you may need (if any), where to find educational sources and how to contribute your new-found birding skills to the scientific community. Then check the end of this page for more information on bird watching communities.
A Beginner’s Introduction
- Birding Basics: All About Birds offers this great section of basic information, including an extensive Frequently Asked Questions list.
- Explore the Data: If you’re not sure what to look for in your backyard, these user-generated maps help give you an idea of what birds are around you.
- Yosemite’s Tips: Yosemite rangers know plenty about birding. Read this short article for ideas on what to include in your birding kits as well as how to bird watch responsibly.
- Into the Field: Here’s a wonderful kid-friendly website. The article covers rules on how to bird watch safely and respectfully.
- Tips for Identification: If you’re specifically interested in identifying the birds you see, check out this 10-step guide with tips for close observation.
- Field Guides: Getting a field guide for your area is one of the easiest and most enjoyable ways to become familiar with the birds in your backyard. They usually include vivid color photographs.
- Choosing a Field Guide: This source deals more specifically with how to know a good field guide from a not-so-good field guide.
- Birders and U.S. Federal Law: Learn more here about the Migratory Bird Treaty Act and how to make sure you’re birding within the law.
- Birding Hotspots: This U.S.-based directory tells you about the most popular birding hotspots ranked from 1 to 50.
- Sound That Attract Birds: Avid birders still debate on the use of mechanical bird calls that can disorient or disrupt birds. This list shows other sounds you can use to attract birds to you.
- The Cornell Lab: If you’re looking for a more collegiate level of education, check out Cornell University’s online courses in ornithology.
- Enchanted Learning: This is a great one for teachers. There are activities and worksheets especially geared toward elementary students
- A Beginner’s Guide to Bird Watching: This isn’t your ordinary beginner’s guide. This 44-page PDF includes more advanced information if you’re really setting your sights high.
- Bird Jam: This website has an incredible amount of audio files for hundreds of different birds so you can learn their calls or identify ones you’ve taped.
- Birdzilla Games – Make learning fun with game shows, bingo, puzzles and more. This is another one that’s great for kids.
- Bed and Birding: Global Network of Bird Friendly accommodation providers which have been vetted on a set of service criterias. The network provides a comfortable experience for individuals, groups and organized birding tours.
- 100+ Citizen-Science Projects: If you’re itching to make your bird watching more meaningful, you can contribute your finds to a local community science project.
- eBird: Submit your observations and view others’ data on eBird. You can also register for a free account to keep track of your finds.
- Great Backyard Bird Count: The GBBC is always seeking volunteers to help with their 15-minute bird count. It’s easy, fast and very helpful for the scientific community.
- Osprey Watch: The OspreyWatch program is a global community that tracks and monitors the population and conditions of ospreys worldwide. Use their app to find a registered nest near you.
- BirdCam: Check out one of the many online “BirdCams.” These webcams are set up to allow remote bird watching. This one even lets you control the camera yourself.
- American Birding Association: Learn more about events in your area sponsored by the American Birding Association. These could include tours, conventions, rallies, and even guided African safari trips.
- Birdingpal: Going out of town? Find a local birdwatcher in your area who can show you their locally unique species. While your “pal” is volunteering to help you for free, they do suggest covering their gas or lunch.
- Basic Supplies: What do you need to bring with you if you plan to venture outside the backyard? Read on to learn what you need in your field bag.
- Birding Supplies: This is a wonderful one-stop shop for all your bird watching needs, including books, binoculars, DVDs, computer software, bird calls and more.
- Binoculars and Scopes: Find out how to choose the best binoculars for you based on magnification power, eye relief, field of view and other factors.
- Choosing a Birdfeeder: You might decide you need to bring the birds to you. In that case, look into the various types of feeders you can try.
- Birding Audio Recorders: If you’re hoping to capture the calls of the birds you encounter, you’ll want to look into a wildlife sound recorder for the best quality.
- Tips from the Pros: LiveScience published this article in which a novice interviews pro bird watchers. It has an enjoyable narrative style.
- Birdwatching: This Wiki page gives you a quick overview of the history and fundamentals of bird watching.
Make Sure You Also Get Involved
Bird watching is sometimes enjoyed as a soloist hobby, but even if you prefer to be alone with nature, you can still make a great impact for other birders and your local scientific community.
Our last section of resources shows just a few examples of the contributions you can make to specific organizations. The idea is to track the species you find in order to help keep an accurate, up-to-date record of the population, migration, and potential endangerment of various bird species. There are only so many ornithologists (the scientists who study birds), and they can’t be everywhere at once. They often rely on user-contributed data to help monitor any unexpected or dangerous changes in the ecosystem.
If you prefer to be more involved with the people in your community, look for a local bird watching organization. You could also try finding a community college class on ornithology. These are often offered in the summer and usually involve both lab study and field trips.
Of course, birding is a wonderful hobby that can include the kids. You might be able to find a course for them through your city’s community educational programs. These kinds of classes typically charge a small fee and can last up to 8-12 weeks in the summer. Looking for something more informal? Bring the kids (and a field guide for your area!) to a hiking trail, state park or local lake.
Though getting a structured education or participating in communities of other birders can be very rewarding, bird watching is absolutely possible for novices exploring on their own.
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