When life gets busy, it’s sometimes hard to notice what’s right in front of our faces (or in the trees and skies around us). Birding/birdwatching can help you slow down and see the beauty around you. Time spent in nature (including bird watching) has been linked to reduced levels of stress. That fact alone is reason enough to explore birding as a pastime!
Besides lowering your stress levels, birdwatching can help you to get your daily requirement of vitamin D, and can be a big part of an active lifestyle! Hiking through the woods in search of an elusive species can add up to several thousand steps with little effort! Birding can be a solitary or a social pastime. It’s relaxing, even meditative, to hear the trills and tweets on your own, and can likewise be a fun activity to do with a spouse, friend, or grandchild.
Birding is a great hobby for young and old alike and doesn’t have to be expensive. Like so many things, you can spend whatever you like for the minimal supplies needed for birding. This is a pastime you can enjoy from your window, in your backyard, or anywhere in the world!
So, what are the essential supplies recommended by veteran bird watchers? Sure, you can spot plenty of different species of birds with the naked eye, and even take pretty decent photos with your smartphone, but leveling up just a bit will allow you to see more, learn more, and ultimately derive more enjoyment from your new hobby. Here is a list of some of the recommended basic bird watching supplies.
Binoculars are an essential piece of equipment for birders. First of all, many birds, such as finches, are very small and difficult to see with the naked eye. Secondly, we humans aren’t as sneaky as we think. It’s easy to spook a bird while trying for a closer look — save yourself some trouble and purchase a decent pair of binoculars.
What should one consider when choosing binoculars? If you really want to get in-depth regarding binoculars, check out this thorough article from Birds & Bliss, featuring information on magnification, lens size, weight, and more. Generally speaking, be prepared to spend at least $50, and look for a 8 times magnification for general birdwatching.
The binoculars I use are Adorrgon. I love these binoculars because they work so well with my smartphone. They’re also reasonably lightweight and have excellent acuity.
Do you need backpack binoculars with a special scope attachment? Absolutely not. On the other hand, if you start enjoying this hobby, why not put a scope on your gift list? Tech might not be necessary, but it can make things easier and also add to the fun!
There are hundreds of species of birds in the U.S. alone, so having a guide to aid in identification is important. Many choices of field guides are available, so what are the hallmarks of a good field guide?
A comprehensive field guide should be relatively lightweight, detailed, and well-organized for ease of use. Hardcore birders will argue for days about the benefits of photographs versus illustrations. Those in favor of illustrations maintain that the artists are experienced birders who draw the birds in positions frequently found in nature. A beginning birder will be just fine with a field guide full of photos, too. Ultimately, it’s up to your preference. Here are some excellent field guides to consider:
- The Sibley Guide to Birds is considered an industry standard and is filled with a detailed illustration of beaks, plumage, and more.
- The National Geographic Field Guide to the Birds of North America is a best-selling guide for all levels and includes unique subspecies maps, text updates on new species, and excellent readability.
- You can also find field guides written for specific areas, such as the National Audubon Society Field Guide to New England. Regional field guides like this one can be a less cumbersome and overwhelming option when you know you’ll be staying in one spot.
If you love tech, or you enjoy traveling light and don’t want to bother packing a book for your adventure, an app might be a better fit for you. The obvious disadvantage of using an app is that your phone will be unavailable for taking photos, but perhaps that’s not a concern for you. Regardless, check out these popular birding apps and decide if one is right for you!
- The Cornell Bird Guide is free and very easy to use. The app is powered by eBird, the world’s largest database of bird sightings, sounds, and photographs.
- The Audubon Bird Guide, also free, is a comprehensive guide to over 800 species of North American birds. With this app, you can post your bird photos to share with other users. You can also keep track of every bird you encounter, whether in your backyard or on a nature hike.
- Smart Bird ID, which has both a free and a paid version, also has identification functions based on sight and sound. This app includes a huge international community as well as fun quizzes to improve your identification skills. Although I’ve tried several apps, Smart Bird ID is my personal favorite. As I love to travel, I have made great connections through the international community.
Do you keep a journal? Many folks do keep journals, and enjoy looking over old volumes filled with memories. A field notebook can serve a similar purpose, with a bit of a scientific edge thrown in. Check out this example from 1960. Why keep a field notebook? This article speaks to reasons and gives a taste of the variety of note-taking styles out there.
As with other supplies, you can spend as much or as little as you like on a field notebook. Are you a practical person, no fuss, no muss? You could simply head over to your local Walmart and purchase a spiral notebook for a dollar or so. The challenge with such a notebook is that it may not be sturdy enough to be thrown in your backpack and carried through a humid forest without falling apart after a couple of months. Here are a few examples of good notebooks to bring with you on a birdwatching trip:
- A sturdier notebook, such as Rite In The Rain will last much longer than a typical spiral notebook. This model has a bright yellow, weather-proof cover, making it easy to spot and more difficult to lose. Rite In The Rain is mostly blank, waiting for your notes, save for a few labeled cells (date, weather, location). Great for a rainy or sunny day, this journal sells for $8.95.
- Sibley’s Bird Journal (my personal favorite) is another option, this one with a checklist for North American species. This journal includes artwork and lies flat, which makes it very easy to fill with notes and observations. When I saw my bird-watching aunt using it, I knew it was the one for me. The cost is $19.95.
- Of course, there is at least one high-tech option in field notebooks. Birdjournal, available on all platforms, has a free and paid version. With several search options (location, species, etc.), you can easily and conveniently access your birding history with a series of simple clicks.
You don’t need to leave home to find birds — you can bring them right to your door with the right kind of bird seed! Simply put the seed mixture in a birdfeeder and wait for the crowds! It might take a while, but they will come.
There are many types of birdseed available. Besides bird specialty stores, you can find bird seed at Walmart, hardware stores, and even some grocery stores. Is it worth the extra money to purchase from a bird specialty store? The answer is yes. The reason? Filler. Bird seed purchased at your local grocery store will typically include filler seeds that birds don’t like. This filler ends up on your lawn, sprouting into a mess you don’t want. Additionally, you’ll get more of what the birds want to eat if you buy your bird seed from a specialty store. Yes, it’s more expensive, but in the long run, you’ll see less mess and more birds.
I’ve tried a few different brands, and the one that keeps birds coming back to my yard is Wagner’s Gourmet Songbird Banquet. I live in Nebraska, and my family loves songbirds! We see plenty of chickadees and cardinals when we have this mix in the feeder!
When you begin exploring the world of bird watching, you’ll see that there are countless other items you might want to buy, but these products are the basics that will get you started. Birding offers an opportunity to commune with nature, get more exercise, learn about wildlife, and reduce stress. There’s no reason not to try it!