Looking for something new to watch—with no subscription required? It’s time to get outside and give bird watching a try!
Worldwide, there are thousands of species of birds, and even the common ones that you see each day can be interesting to watch once you know what to look for. Like stargazing, this hobby is free, easy to get into, and requires no special skills or equipment. Keep reading to learn how to start bird watching!
Relaxing in the Kickback Rocker™ and ready to spot some bucket-list bird species! Photo by Jessica Baker.
What You’ll Need for Birding
If you’re even just thinking about how to get into bird watching, you’ll want to pick up a bird identification book. That’s because seeing the birds is only half of birding—your field guide will help you identify, learn about, and keep track of the different species you see. Luckily, there are many great options out there; our team prefers the classic Peterson Field Guide and the National Geographic Field Guide—both are informative without being overwhelming, and their compact sizes fit nicely in a daypack.
Alternatively, there are bird identification apps that can be downloaded on your phone. Having recordings of bird calls can be helpful in making a positive identification, but many birders try to keep their outings low-tech—it’s too easy to get distracted by other apps on your phone!
Next, you may want to pick up a pair of binoculars. For those just getting started, any type of binoculars will do, including that budget pair you may have lying around at home. These will help you get a closer look at birds in the treetops, across a lake, or anywhere else that your eye might strain to see. As your hobby becomes more serious, you can invest in a high-power pair of binoculars (most birders prefer 8-power) or a small telescope called a spotting scope.
Birding requires lots of patience, but that doesn’t have to mean lots of discomfort for you. Bring along a comfortable chair—one with backpack straps like the Wilderness Backpacker™ will keep your hands free for your camera and a cooler or water bottle. For those heading on long excursions, the 1.3-lb. PackSeat™ can attach right to your belt loop, so you can “take a load off” wherever you go.
The Wilderness Backpacker™’s backpack straps and oversized storage pouch keep your hands free for other necessities. Photo by Parker Amstutz.
Finally, there’s one other non-necessity that can help you get into bird watching: bird feeders. Setting these up at home will allow you to start seeing birds up close. Choose the type of feeder and food based on the birds you’d like to attract. Then, by watching them around your feeder, you can start learning to differentiate species by their shape, features, and behaviors—just consult your field guide!
Although you don’t need any background knowledge to get into bird watching, it can help you make faster and more accurate identifications in the field. Focus on your local area: what kind of birds can you expect to see in the region? Then learn more about their habitats, where they build their nests, what they eat, and what their routines (including big fall and spring migrations) are like. Many free resources are available—stop by your local library, or search by region on the Audubon website.
In most places, a wooded area is your best bet for finding a variety of species, although the trees will likely limit your visibility. Setting up at the edge of a clearing, such as an open field or meadow, is a good choice. Water habitats such as marshes are also great spots for seeing certain birds such as eagles and ospreys. If you head out on a canoe or kayak bird watching trip, you may come across herons wading in shallow water. Just be sure to pack your bug spray!
The SitBacker™ canoe seat makes your paddling trip more comfortable, letting you stay out longer and see more birds!
Look & Listen
Are you ready for your first bird watching outing? Of course you are! Just grab your gear, find the perfect spot to set up, and then stop, look, and listen. By getting comfortable, keeping quiet, and observing carefully, you’ll be able to blend into the environment, so birds will behave naturally and hopefully come closer. (There’s no need to wear camouflage, but it is a good idea to wear neutral colors.)
When you see them, take the opportunity to pay close attention to their features—what colors and markings do you see, and where? Approximately how large is the bird? Is it alone or part of a flock? Focus on the sounds it makes—is there a pattern? How often are they repeated? Is the bird very still, or does it make many small movements? All of these factors can help you narrow down the species you are seeing. Grabbing a photo, even with your phone’s camera, can help you verify the identification later.
Finally, there’s no need to go it alone. Bird watching can be a great activity to do with a friend, partner, or family member, and you can learn so much by making connections with other birders in your community. Together, you can share information, compare checklists, and deepen your appreciation for bird watching.
Bird watching can be better together—and with a comfortable chair. Photo by Parker Amstutz.