How to Bird Watch

Five Parts:Preparing the EquipmentFlocking with OthersGoing Bird WatchingIdentifying BirdsRespecting the Birds

You probably hear birds every day, but can you tell one bird song from the next? Birdwatching or birding, is an increasingly popular hobby in many parts of the world. Venturing out to look for and listen to various species of birds in your locality can be both enriching and relaxing. All you need is a pair of binoculars, a field guide, and a willingness to observe.

Part 1
Preparing the Equipment

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    Get a pair of binoculars. A pair with reasonable magnification (e.g. 7x or 8x) and lighter weight often works better in cluttered environments like forest or woodland. Higher magnification (10x or 12x; and heavier weight) glasses are better for open country and wetland birding; but some people will find them more difficult to hand hold and therefore suffer a more shaky image.
    • Choose between porro prisms or roof prisms. Most serious birders use top range roof prisms, such as the Swarovski EL, Leica Ultravid or Zeiss Victory FL range; the top of the range models use this design as it is more compact and more comfortable to use. Inexpensive binoculars are generally porro prism; inexpensive roof prisms (especially those without phase coating) are generally to be avoided.
    • Also take into consideration the binocular strap. When you go into the field, you will be wearing a dead weight on your neck for hours at a time, so make sure the strap is wide and comfortable. Some birders use a harness that distributes weight to the shoulders and back instead of to the neck.
    • Calibrate your binoculars before you go birding.
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    Get a field guide. Some people prefer the guides with illustrations because photographs can lead to confusion due to poor lighting, flash, posture, etc. Get into the habit of studying the birds' habits, calls, and field marks before birding. This way, you will be ready to identify a particular bird the instant you see it.

Part 2
Flocking with Others

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    Find other bird watchers. If you really enjoy bird watching, search online for birding groups and chapters near you. Many lead bird walks that you can attend. Contact local universities or parks to find out whether classes or walks are being offered. The more sets of eyes and ears there are, the more birds you'll find, especially if you go with bird watchers who are more experienced than you are.

Part 3
Going Bird Watching

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    Dress appropriately, as you would for hiking. Colors that blend in to the surrounding landscape will help to stop birds from avoiding your presence.
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    Start bird watching in the morning, when birds are searching for food, and listen. Most of the time, you will be surrounded by bird calls and songs, but will not have a single bird in sight. Look for movement in trees, and bring your binoculars to your eyes. Don't try to find the bird through your binoculars.
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    Attract the birds. If you can't go to the birds, bring the birds to you. Putting up bird feeders and keeping them filled with fresh bird food is an effective way to attract birds to your own yard. Do some reading to determine which type of feeds will attract any birds you are particularly interested in observing. Sunflower seeds will attract quite a few varieties and might be nice to start with. You can also install a bird fountain. Most things that can hold shallow water will do! Running or dripping water especially interests birds.
    • Buy or make a bird attracting item. Buy bird feeders for those chickadees and cardinals. If you want hummingbirds, grow flowers or make or buy a hummingbird feeder.
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    Proceed quietly. Loud talking or laughing can cause birds to flee before you even get close. Putting your phone on vibrate also helps.

Part 4
Identifying Birds

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    Identify the bird you've spotted in your field guide. You will find that birds stick to certain ranges---range maps will be shown in your field guide. Do not focus on color as this alone can lead to incorrect identifications. Focus on shape, size, markings, posture, behavior, etc. Watch places where field markings are normally, like wing bars or the tail feathers. [1]
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    Keep visual records. If you have time, and if you're interested in having a visual record, take a picture of the bird. This can be difficult when you're starting out, especially since you'll need to use a camera on a tripod in conjunction with a telescope or binoculars (a practice known as digiscoping) to get the shot.
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    Extend your searches. To find more and different birds, you may wish to plan trips to different habitats: forests, mudflats, lakes, rivers, fields/meadows. Eventually, you may wish to plan travel even further to places which will host birds you are not likely to see near your home.
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    Create your "life list". This is a list of every species of bird you have seen. Eventually, you might progress to creating various other lists: yard lists, month lists, year lists, state lists, etc. and you might start "twitching" (UK) or "chasing" (US)--that is, traveling so you can catch sight of a rare bird to add to your list. Write down the bird species, gender (if you can tell), location and date.

Part 5
Respecting the Birds

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    Respect the birds. Birdwatching etiquette and ethics are important in making sure that as birding becomes more popular, the birds' habitats are not disturbed. Some guidelines suggested by the American Birding Association include:
    • Don't stress the birds with recordings or artificial lighting.
    • Don't get too close to nests, nesting colonies, roosts, display areas, and important feeding sites; your presence may interfere with birds' activities.
    • Respect private property.
    • Avoid advertising the presence of a rare bird if it may result in habitat disturbance.
    • Don't attract birds to areas where they are in danger, such as if your cat plans on eating them for lunch.
    • Be quiet. If you want to spy that elusive hummingbird, or capture that cardinal in a picture, you must be quiet. If you want to take pictures, do it quietly. Avoid flash and camera noises.


  • Once you become more experienced, consider taking part in a bird census to help scientists learn more about bird populations and migration.
  • Some birds look similar so don't be certain of what bird you are looking at.
  • In temperate zones, the best time to go birding is in the spring and fall when birds are migrating.
  • Set out bird feeders. That is the best way to watch birds without moving from home.
  • Don't bring loud people along. The louder the person, the less enjoyable the activity.
  • Using a deer stand to get up in the trees is a great way to get up and see the species that rarely come down. If you go up in a deer stand, avoid getting in a tree with a bird nest. You are likely to get pecked!
  • Use a monopod with heavier pair of binoculars such as 10x50. It allows you to achieve a more stabilized view and lets you to watch birds for a longer period of time.


  • Some birds may attack you if you come too close, such as swans.
  • Proceed quietly while birding unless you are in an area with high concentrations of bears...
  • During migration, do not "pish", or lure birds by making noises that mimic the noises that small birds make when they "mob", or harass, predators. This stresses the already-weakened bird, and may contribute to its death.
  • Never pick up baby birds. They may look cute, but they are likely to peck, carry diseases, and poop somewhere. But, there is a loophole. If your cat or dog brings the bird, take it to a nearby wildlife service. They will care for and eventually, release it.
  • Do some research before you watch. Some bird parents will swoop down and claw at your head if you go near their nest. If you see one of these bird parents, get out of the area.

Things You'll Need

  • Binoculars
  • Field guide
  • Notebook and pen to record your sightings and notes
  • Suitable clothing (for seasonal weather conditions)
  • Snacks

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