Picture this, you go on a nature walk with your close friends. In the distance, you hear the calls of a bird. Your group gets excited in anticipation of what singing songbird’s path you are about to cross. As you close in on the bird you recognize it’s distinct, nasally, fast-repeated clear whistle. Peter-Peter-Peter. Almost as if it was alarming the others that someone is entering their territory. You lift up your binoculars to see a small bird that has frequented your backyard feeder stealing sunflower from the Cardinals. A small gray bird with prominent black eyes, a bushy crest, and small beak. It jumps down from its perch to pick up a seed and flies proudly back to its branch. You tell your friends it is a “Tufted Titmouse” and now you feel like a true birder. Success.
It takes practice to become an expert birder but is a lifelong skill to have that can be passed on to generations to come. Birding is essentially a year-round game that never ends and can be played outdoors or from the comfort of your home looking out of a window with a few supplies or none. It’s your call. Let your curiosity take flight with birding. If you really want to improve your birding skills, or just start somewhere, there are several supplies you will want to keep handy.
Getting Started with Birdwatching
A good Field Guide will be your best friend as it is essential to being able to identify birds. Field guides come in many different sizes making them easy to carry in your pocket, backpack or purse. There are guides available online but the last thing you want to do is drag out your dinging tablet or phone in the middle of the woods while trying to identify a quick moving bird.
There are many types of field guides available. If you are starting your birding trek at a state or national park you may find park guides in the visitor’s center before entering the park. These are typically a pamphlet of common birds located in that park.
Traditional guides come in different shapes and sizes ranging from a 2-sided laminated card to a full 200-page book and beyond. Beginner guides are typically arranged by color of the bird making it easier for the user to flip to the right starting point but as you use these guides you will learn that your version of color may vary from that of the authors. You will find that more advanced guides are arranged by shapes or taxonomically (by scientific classification).
So you have had practice getting out in the field, walking trails and taking advantage of the free guides provided at your local park. You’ve got a hang of flipping through a guide and understanding the author’s version of “red” and now it is time to purchase gear – but where to begin?
A sketchbook or journal will be your best friend. Keep a pad handy when you are going on a nature hike as there may be multiple birds you are trying to identify at once. Jot down a sketch of the bird, colors, unique calls the bird may have or any other identifying features. When you go home and prepare to finish your birding homework these clues can help you identify what you were not able to while out in the field.
Invest in a dependable binocular that suits your needs once you feel you are ready to improve your birding abilities. See this article on finding the right binocular for eyeglass wearers. Binoculars are convenient and easily portable, can be worn around your neck, and are available in waterproof options! Sighting birds through binoculars gives a more realistic view than using a telescope as human vision is stereoscopic (using two vision channels) just like a binocular.
Put Your Skills to Work
You’ve done your homework. You’ve flipped through your field guide. You’ve made your birding purchases now it is time to put your skills to work. Remember to have fun and relax. You will not be a professional on your first attempt. In fact, with birding, you will find that you learn something new each time you step outside. The knowledge you will obtain from bird watching will be abundant. So take that first step into nature and you will reap the rewards of your hard work. Pass these skills on to friends and family to create future generations of birding enthusiasts.