For me, the best hobbies are the ones that you can dive straight into, the ones that don’t need hours of training or specialist equipment and that is why I love bird watching.
Yes, you can totally shell out on the latest equipment or get lost in all-consuming, research spirals if you want, but you don’t need to. Any beginner can start the bird watching hobby just by looking out the window or going for a walk.
It can be fast-paced; racing to twitch sites to tick off the latest migrant, or if you’re like me, it can be a much leisurely affair, with a nice hike, a picnic, and a thermos of coffee.
Don’t get me wrong, it’s a hobby that takes a little bit of practice – if you’ve ever flipped through the gull section of a field guide you’ll know what I mean, but it’s a hobby that is completely rewarding straight away.
Here are 9 top tips to get you out birdwatching this weekend:
In this Guide:
Tip #1. If You Are a Beginner, Just Think Local
My love for birdwatching started right in my back yard. Nothing fancy, I didn’t have my birding epiphany on some far-flung, expensive, guided safari tour. I just enjoyed watching the birds that visited as I washed up, or got ready for work, or had my morning coffee.
Bird watching really is as easy as that. Have a look out your window, go for a walk around the block and see what you can see. Let the stunning colors of the blue jay catch your eye, or the cheeky antics of the house sparrow entertain you.
A quick google search for the birds most often found in your area will help you gain an idea of what to expect and how to start birding.
Tip #2. Become a Bird Nerd
This is one of my favorite tips because honestly, birds are just fascinating to learn about. The more you know about birds, the more successful you will be in your quest to find them.
There are some fantastic online resources to get you started – if the Audubon Society website doesn’t whet your bird watching whistle then I don’t know what will. Learning some simple anatomy terms will really help you out when you need some ID help ‘it’s tertiary feathers were olive’ sounds much better than ‘it had browny colored bits on it’.
Tip #3. Invest in a field guide
This sort of falls into the bird nerd category but in my opinion, it is one of the most important items needed for birdwatching.
A weekend spent perusing the pages of a field guide is a weekend well spent because you are going to meet (and will need to identify) a lot of birds along the way. Field guides put them into categories that help you decipher what family they belong to.
Bonus tip: Get a field guide that fits in your pocket so that you can take it out on your bird watching trips helping you to ID birds on the spot.
Tip #4. Binoculars!
More often than not birds are far away and when they are far away, they become fuzzy blurs of color that are tricky to identify, and it’s frustrating when you can’t ID something.
My bins (you know you’re a bird watcher when you start calling them that) are pretty much always round my neck. I use a lightweight, waterproof pair, which for me is essential because I always get caught in the rain.
If you are going to invest a pricey pair here are some great tips.
Tip #5. Download Some Apps
I don’t like to carry loads of stuff with me when I’m out birding, pockets stuffed with notebooks, pens, field guides aren’t comfortable, and I prefer to reserve these spaces for snacks (another essential birding item) so I use apps like BirdsEye and iBird to help me ID and record the species I’ve seen. For beginners, apps are a great way to keep on hand their new hobby.
Tip #6. Learn some bird song
I’ll never forget the sense of satisfaction when I first identified a bird solely on its song – to me, it’s like learning a secret language, plus birds are usually hidden in bushes or up the top of trees so it becomes a key player in identification.
This weekend why not learn a couple of basic songs, pick a common bird in your area, do quick YouTube search, and have a listen.
Tip #7. Attract birds to your yard
This is by far, most rewarding part of birdwatching. Not only do you get to have your own private (super comfy) birdwatching hide, but you’re also helping out your feathered neighbors – especially in bad weather when food is scarce. It’s my way of giving back to the avian community that has given me so much.
Tip #8. Write it down
Listing plays a huge part in birdwatching. I have dozens of lists, I have a back-yard list, a life list, a local nature reserve, the list of lists is endless. I always find it satisfying to write down a new species, but writing it down also helps me remember things in the field. If there’s a bird I’m not sure if I can draw a quick sketch, jot down some key notifying features – size, color, shape, and then hit the field guides when I’m home for some answers.
Why not spend this weekend compiling a list of the birds that visit your yard.
Tip #9. Get Social
I love that bird watching can be done entirely solo or with friends. Try encouraging some of your buddies to head out on a walk with you and see what you can find or if they don’t fancy it, a quick online search will lead you to your local birdwatching group. When I joined my local ornithology club, I seriously upped my birding game and learned so much more about birds and how to find them, plus I made some life-long friends in the process.
So, now that you’re officially prepared for the word of birdwatching what are you waiting for? The weekend is short and there are a lot of birds to see. Get out there and get birding.