Tips for Beginning Birders
Bird watching is accessible to virtually anyone, anywhere, any time of year.
Birds can be found all year round, in all types of environments – backyards, woodlands, fields, beaches, parking lots, and even in large cities and small-town squares. You do not need to break the bank with a fancy set of binoculars or a zoom lens camera or have 10 birdfeeders in your yard. All you need is some time to sit still and keep your eyes and ears open!
Test many or all the following tips as a citizen scientist during the annual Great Backyard Bird Count taking place February 12-15, 2021. Learn how you can help identify various species in the local area by reporting what you see in your own back yard, at school or work!
Visit https://www.birdcount.org/ to participate! Then, come out to Elachee Nature Science Center on February 13, 2021 for a bird-themed Discovery Saturday at Elachee.
7 Birding Tips to Try Out
- The best way to bird watch is to look and listen! You’ll be surprised by how many birds you alread know without ever looking it up online or in a guidebook. Look for coloration, size, silhouette, beak shape, and unique plumage.
- If you want to try birding by ear, which comes in handy because birds are often hidden from site by foliage or by the darkness at dawn and dusk, a great way to learn is to listen to recordings of the common species that you see all time and go from there. The National Zoo offers a great tool for learning common calls and song: Guide to North American Bird Songs and Sounds. In addition, for great tips on birding by ear, check out The Cornell Lab birding identification tool, How to Learn Bird Songs and Calls.
- If you want to attract birds to your yard, a simple feeder with black oil sunflower seeds or another type of inexpensive seed will do the trick. Birds are also attracted to water sources, so having a small bird bath will attract even more species.
- Birding is a test of patience! You will probably not automatically see a bunch of new species the minute you step out into the woods, and you may not see a single bird at all! Just like any new hobby or pursuit, it takes time and patience to build the knowledge base and skills. Luckily, there is plenty of solitude, fresh air, and quiet during birdwatching, and no pressure to win or be perfect!
- Investing in a guidebook that works for you is key! Research the features of each option before you buy it, so you know it will work for your purposes. Don’t start out with a guidebook to the entire United States, trying to wade through over 1,000 species! Instead, start out with a guidebook that focuses on your state or region. A guidebook to species of the Southeast, for example, is a great way to start if you live around the Gainesville, Georgia area. Learn the layout of your guidebook and practice looking up birds by color, species and habitat (shorebirds vs. woodlands, etc.). The Merlin app by The Cornell Lab of Ornithology is also a great tool for birdwatching, allowing you to search species by site and sound.
- Create a ‘life list’ of birds that you hope to see one day – a birding bucket list! This is a great way to stay motivated to get out and bird, and you can take it with you when you travel to new places.
- Once you really get into the hobby of birdwatching, a good pair of binoculars will become your best friend! There’s nothing quite like getting a bird in focus in your binocular view, that you’ve only heard but never seen, for the first time.
- Connect with your local bird watching community. Every state and many communities have bird watching clubs or groups. Birders are always happy to share information and tips with beginners! Trips organized by these groups can also greatly expand your knowledge base and help you check birds off your life list. You can also join a local bird watching group on Facebook, where you can post a photo of a species you need help identifying.
- The old saying is true, the early bird really does catch the worm! Because birds are diurnal, meaning they sleep at night and are active during the day, they wake up hungry and hunting for food in the early morning hours. Although you can see birds throughout the day, the best time for birding is in the early morning. Avoid noontime watching, as this is when birds are least active.
Elachee Nature Science Center promotes environmental understanding through education and conservation. Visit the ELACHEE CALENDAR for nature programming and seasonal events for lifelong learners, families and children. Questions? Call 770-535-1976.