Bird Watching Tips
Getting Started in Bird Watching
If you are a beginning bird watcher it is helpful to start
going out with experienced birders to learn what to look for.
There are many bird groups you can join. The Audubon Society,
and American Birding Association are probably the best know.
These groups offer birding information in the form of
magazines, newsletters, and guided trips. You can find
birding books, recordings, binoculars, and other equipment in
local retail stores. The clubs should also have lists of
birds in your area.
Here is some top
rated birding software used by many people. This is like an electronic Field Guide - that sings!
You can identify birds by entering color, size, habitat or song. Compare birds
side-by-side, record your sightings ... and more!
Keeping a birding log can be fun. One benefit of keeping track of birds and
the sounds they make is that in a short time you will be able
to identify them by their shape or song. This makes bird
watching more fun.
Where and When to see Birds
Luckily for us many popular song birds visit backyard feeders,
and birdbaths. This makes a yard designed with birds in
mind one of the best places to watch birds. Watching
the entertaining antics of birds feeding, and bathing from
your lawn chair or a window can be very enjoyable.
While it is possible to go bird watching any time and any place, it
is helpful to know when, and where to look. Learning the
habitats of birds in your area will increase the number of
birds you see, and make your birding more enjoyable. If
you know that Meadow larks are likely to be in open grassy
areas, and dippers are forage along stream beds, you may be
looking for them if you are in those types of habitats.
Ecotones, or edge areas where different types of habitats meet
will likely have more species in them. You are more
likely to see specific birds at certain times of the day.
example songbirds are easier to see two to three hours after
dawn, or just before sunset. This is when songbirds are most
actively feeding. Many small birds will be silent or even
hidden during the rest of the day. After sunup is the best
time to see eagles and hawks. Visibility is best for hunting
at this time, and they can soar on the thermal currents from
the warmed air. Birds like owls are more likely to be seen in
the evening. Many shorebirds and waders rest at high tide and
feed when the water rises or falls.
One good place to start bird watching is in
your own back yard. There are many things you can do to attract
birds to your yard.
All birds need food, water and shelter, but needs or habits
will vary with each species. Crossbills natural food
comes from conifer trees. Cranes need to be around
water. Red-winged blackbirds fasten their nests to reeds
such as cattails. A meadowlark’s nest is a grass dome
built on the ground. Nuthatches, woodpeckers and
Brown creepers are more likely to be seen on tree trunks.
Dippers will be found in mountain streams hoping from rock to
rock, or diving for aquatic insects. Learning what needs
a specific bird has will tell you what their natural habit is
and where to look for it. You are more likely to find certain birds if
you look in their normal habitat. Sometimes staying
still for a while will put them at ease, and you may be able
to get close.
For information on
feeding birds and types of food see Feeding-Birds.
Birds In The Garden or Backyard
Many songbirds are attracted to seeds. There are many good
feeders or you can just design your own. It is best to
provide a mix of sizes. Niger, billet, and sunflower seeds
make a good mix. Certain birds like robins will be attracted
to a piece of fruit on a stick or spike. Tree-climbers like
Woodpeckers and Nuthatches like suet. Peanut butter is an old
favorite and will attract a large variety of birds.
Hummingbird feeders can be filled with sugar water. For
more information on types of food see Feeding-Birds.
It is great to watch birds splash in a shallow birdbath.
are more likely to attract birds to your backyard if you have
trees and bushes they can rest or hide in. If you have a
birdbath put it near the plants.
There are advantages to each season. To see birds in full
colorful breeding plumage the best time to watch is in spring
when they migrate to their nesting grounds. Most birds breed
in the summer so that is when you can watch them build their
nests and raise their young. This is also when they will be
the most visible. Later in the summer when they
are molting they remain more concealed. The fall migration is the
hardest time to identify birds because of the change in
Birding Technique and Skills
It goes without saying that watching birds in the wild takes
more patience than watching them in your back yard. If
you are walking it the woods, try walking a little ways then
stopping for a few minutes to look around. Scan the
forest from bottom to top. Some birds prefer to stay in
the underbrush, some prefer the middle, and still others will
remain in tree tops. You might want to just sit for a
while on a stump or log. Often birds that might be
spooked as you walk through might reveal themselves if you are
still for a while. Birds have a comfort zone they will
not let you enter. For each species this zone is
different. The way to learn this zone is with practice,
and experience. Birds are likely to be alarmed by noise or sudden movement, so
move slowly and quietly. Watch the vegetation for movement
that may give away a birds location.
Birds have sharper
senses than we do so they probably know you are there, but
they have to see you as non-threatening. Watch for signs of alarm
in birds; a freeze in posture, a cocked head, or half raised
wings. These tell you to stop moving until the bird calms
down, or to back away if necessary. If you are walking,
and you see birds flee into bushes as you approach try staying
still for a few minutes. When birds perceive that you
are not a threat they may come out of hiding. Often
their curiosity will bring them quite close to you and you can
get great pictures. Study an unfamiliar bird
thoroughly before consulting your field guide. Many birders
take extensive notes.
Bird Identification Clues
There are some basic clues you can look and listen for. 1)
the bird's silhouette, 2)
its plumage and coloration, 3) its behavior, 4)
its song or calls, 5) its habitat.
Silhouette - Shape and Size
Most experts learn to identify birds by their shape and
posture. Each bird family has a certain shape and size. Many birds are
even identifiable to species by outline alone. By placing the
bird you see into a particular family, you will narrow down
the number of possible birds.
Most people get into bird watching to see the beautiful
colors. The marks that distinguishing one bird form another
are called field marks. These include such things as breast
spots, wing bars (thin lines along the wings), eye rings
(circles around the eyes), eyebrows (lines over the eyes),
eye lines (lines through the eyes) and many others.
Look at the shape of a bird's bill in low light. Cardinals,
finches, and sparrows have short conical bills. Woodpeckers
have rigid powerful bills to chip away at wood. Hawks,
Eagles, and Owls have sharp, hooked bills for tearing meat.
Shorebirds have slender bills of all lengths for probing at
different depths into the sand. Birds such as Ducks have flat
bills useful for filtering. Everyone is familiar with the
long thin beak of a Hummingbird.
See Beaks, Bills and Feet.
Bird Watching Equipment
Some items that might make bird watching more enjoyable are binoculars, a
camera, some kind of system for keeping notes, and maybe a
back pack. Birders
often keep lists of the birds they see along with notes about
the habits. There is some great bird log software that will
let you keep records on your computer. One option for binoculars is the binocular-camera
combination. For more detail on choosing binoculars see our Binocular - Optics page.
Bird Song recording
Recording the songs of birds you encounter can
be fun. Learn about different types of
bird recording equipment here.
If you are walking through a wooded area just wear clothes you
would wear on any hike or field trip. You are best off wearing clothes with dull colors that blend
into the background. Muted greens, browns, and grays are
good. Avoid fabrics that squeak, rustle, or snag easily.
Depending on the birds you are watching you may want to get
rain gear, rubber boots and warm clothing. For birds such as
Owls that you might look for in the evening a strong
flashlight is also handy.
Bird Songs and Calls
To start learning birdcalls there are many recordings you can
by. Bird clubs or bookstores, can help you find tapes for
Choosing a Bird Field Guide
Take a good field guide to identify birds. Look for clear
color pictures that make it easy to recognize one bird form
another. Next to each picture should be detailed descriptions
of each bird's anatomy, habits, and what it eats. The guide
should have information about what habitat each species uses.
Many guides have maps showing the range of different birds
along with their migration patterns.