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
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
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.
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 amazon.com
is provided for your convenience in finding the variety of field guides
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
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
; 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 amazon.com is provided for your convenience in finding the
variety of binoculars and scopes available.
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
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
Find your nearest
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