Bird Watching Tips for Beginners

This article gives some tips for beginners in bird watching. Your garden or local park may be a good place to start. If watching birds in your garden, bird tables, bird baths, and having a bird feed can all attract them in. Remember though that cats are a threat to birds, and will deter them from your garden. I would recommend having a good bird identification guide (often called a field guide), and if you are out looking at birds from a distance, a decent pair of small, light and waterproof binoculars.

Binoculars can be expensive, but I use a cheaper pair I got second-hand. Always be wearing the binoculars, with the strap short so it isn’t hung low down to your stomach. You may need them at a moments notice, and not have time to get them out the case, or even look away. When watching birds in wider surroundings, many bird watchers also take a telescope, but I suggest this is beyond the remit of a beginner. If you do take a telescope, you will ideally also have a strong tripod.

Try not to wear bright clothes, or clothes that make loud noises when you move. Turn your phone to silent, keep your voice down, and try not to point or move around too much. You want to blend into the background as much as possible. Imagine you’re hunting. Some bird watching venues have hides you can use. The more invisible you are, the better bird watching experience you will have, as disturbing the birds just causes them to leave. You will be fairly still for a long time, so wear something warm. If your going out in the woods, wear boots and maybe leech socks to keep insects away. Maybe take something dry to sit on, and a flask of hot drink. Wearing a dark coloured hat isn’t just good for keeping warm, it can help camouflage you.

When a bird of interest comes along, don’t worry about trying to identify it straight away in the bird identification guide. By the time you look up for a second glance at the bird, it may have flown away. Remember, bird watching is about watching birds. Keep your eyes on the bird. Notice its feathers, patterns, behaviour, and just enjoy the beauty of the animal. Listen to its song, and try to work out what it’s doing. Once it’s flown off, then you can refer to a bird identification guide and take down any notes or sketches. Always make a note of the date, time, and weather conditions as this can also help identify the bird.

When listening to the bird’s song, look closely at its beak to ensure it isn’t coming from another bird. CD’s and DVD’s are available that can help you learn which song belongs to which type of bird. Notice how it flies, eats, walks or jumps. Consider the habitat and time of year.

As you get more experienced, you will become accustomed to all this, and will start to notice the finer details. Exactly what type of bill the bird has. The feathers around the eyes. The length of its tail. Estimating size, relative to other breeds. How it behaves with regard to other birds nearby.

You may consider membership to a local bird watching group, or subscription to a bird watching magazine. There is also much information available on-line. But as a beginner, the only thing to really focus on is enjoying the experience, the fascination of watching birds in the wild, and to just get a general idea of what to look out for. As you get more experienced, everything else will come naturally, and hopefully the joy of bird watching will never diminish.

The author Edgeworth Johnstone is a bird watcher, but a contemporary expressionist artist by trade. You can see his art work at: http://www.edgeworthjohnstone.co.uk

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