Better Birding
by Ken Fuller

Birding (also known as bird watching) can be exciting!  Though that may be difficult for the uninitiated to believe.  It accommodates those who are driven to compete, those who desire a leisurely, relaxing pastime.  It works for those who wish to socialize in a group, and for those who wish to be alone with nature.  Birding develops both physical and intellectual skills. (Use 'em or loose 'em!)  Birding is an activity which can be rewarding and pleasurable from the simplest beginning to the most rigorous advanced study.

The first step to becoming a birder is really quite simple.  Start looking at the birds you see.  Instead of seeing "a bird", look at its shape, look at its color and patterns of color (few birds are a solid, single color like a crow), look at its movements, listen to its sounds.  Soon, instead of seeing a "bird", you will see a house sparrow, a starling, or another species common in your area.

Learning  bird names:
A field guide is a critical tool for the birder.  Start with one from the library, until you decide which is most useful for your style.  Look through the pictures in the field guide during TV commercials.  This will give you pointers as to which details you should especially look for when you see an unfamiliar bird.  It will also give you an idea of about where in the guide to look for the bird you are seeing.  The descriptions will also suggest which birds are most likely to be in your area.

Take the field guide outside.  Look up each bird you find.  At first you will spend a lot of time looking up house sparrows, starlings, and other common birds over and over.  That's good.  Each time will expand and reinforce your ability to recognize common species so that later you can concentrate on identifying the less common birds.

Selecting  a field guide:
I am prejudiced in favor of the Peterson Field Guides.  When I started birding (many years ago) they were the only field guides available, so my habits developed around the structure of those particular books.  I have other field guides for backup.  That is, when an identification isn't quite certain, I check it against the other books.   The Sibley Guide to Birds has the most complete information, but I find it rather large for carrying in the field.  It is also important to select a field guide specific to the area where you will be observing.  The smaller the area covered, the fewer the birds, the easier to use.  The link to is provided for your convenience in finding the variety of field guides available.     field guides to birds

Even the lowest power, cheapest binoculars are a help in observing birds.  Generally recommended are 6 to 8 power.  ( 6X= 6 power = magnifies six times = what you would see at 1/6 th the distance.)  The number after the X is the diameter of the objective lens (the one toward the object you are looking at.) in millimeters.  The larger the diameter, the brighter and sharper the image is, and the larger and more awkward the scope.  I frequently carry a monocular (compact telescope like half a binocular) 8X 25, because of its small size, and relatively small coast.  One advantage of  a monocular is, I can keep one eye on the bird (in case it moves) while aiming and focusing the scope.

Important note; Aiming and focusing binoculars (or monocular) is a tricky and acquired skill.  The more practice you have the easier it becomes.  Also, the higher the magnification, the more difficult it is, and the more difficult it is to hold the binocular steady enough to make good observations.  When my primary purpose is birding, I carry zoom 7-15 X  35 binoculars.  I aim and focus at 7X then zoom in to 15X.  Of course, the zoom increases the cost.
The link to is provided for your convenience in finding the variety of binoculars and scopes available.   binoculars

Keeping field notes can make your birding experience much more interesting, and is essential to making it scientifically valuable.  A small notebook and pencil are all you need.  But the hardest part is remembering to write what you see.  Not only which bird, but date, time, where, what it was doing, any other details which may be of interest later (not always easy to predict).  This record allows you to look back and see if a species has become more common, less common, or when it first appeared in your area, etc.

Many birders keep check lists.  Lists of the birds they have positively identified within certain areas.  And a life list, a list of all the birds they have ever identified (good for bragging rights).  Be sure to include only those which have been positively identified.

Assistance and camaraderie:

Especially when starting, it helps to accompany someone who has experience.  The learning is much faster that way.  It is fun socializing with others who share our particular interests, and participating in group activities.  Some group activities such as  an annual bird census, add valuable information to ornithology (the scientific study of birds).  Therefore, joining a local organization such as the Auduban Society may greatly increase your enjoyment and other benefits of birding.  
Find your nearest AudubanChapter .

Science reports / projects:
Science reports related to birds can include first hand observations from your own experience.  This adds interest and importance to the information from other sources.  Projects may be identifying the birds resident to a particular area, such as a park or school campus.  Or, recording observations a particular nesting pair throughout the season.  Remember, not all the work on a science project needs to be done during the school year, get a head start.  For more help see, "Conducting a Science Project".

In Other Back Yards:
Compare  The birds found in back yards in different parts of the country.


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