Bird watching can be a lot fun, but it takes good equipment and practice. Here are some tips and resources to help you out when you are just starting to watch birds.
Picking the Right Binoculars
Binoculars are an important piece of equipment for a bird watcher. You want to get good quality binoculars that are lightweight, easy for you to use, and provide a crisp, high quality image of the bird. Our recommendation is to ask local birders what brands they use or recommend and to try some out before you buy.
If you can borrow a friend’s binoculars to test them out, it will help you get a feel for what you like and are comfortable using. While higher magnifications provide a much more detailed image, they are sometimes difficult for beginners to utilize. It’s better to find that out before you spend lots of money on high magnification binoculars.
The folks at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology recommend Nikon Monarchs or Leupold Yosemites as a good starter pair of binoculars. I have a pair of Nikon Monarchs that I use for wildlife watching and I love them! They have a magnification of 10x, which makes it easy to find what I am looking for in the frame but they are strong enough and let in enough light for backyard bird watching (42 mm lens).
Field guides are very helpful for assisting you with identifying birds. You may want a copy to take with you when you hike, but there are also many online varieties (see our earlier article on online birding resources). The Sibley Guide, Kaufman’s, and Peterson’s field guides are all very useful. Try practicing identifying the shape and colors of birds in your backyard to get a feel for each guide before you head out on a hike.
Bird Watching Apps
Mobile phone apps that help you identify birds by description or by call are also useful tools to take along on your bird watching walks. Again, talk to some experienced bird watchers and see what apps they like and use. Here is a short list of resources for some bird identification apps:
- Audubon Birds Pro
- Bird field guide apps
- Bird listing apps
- Birdseye – an app that helps you find birds
- Merlin Bird ID by Cornell Lab of Ornithology
- Peterson Backyard Birds
- Sibley eGuide Reference
Local Bird Watching Groups
You can learn a lot from joining a local Audubon Chapter or other bird watching group in the area. Experienced birders can help teach you how to spot and identify birds and how to identify bird calls. It’s very handy to have someone around to aid you in identification when you aren’t sure.
These groups often have field trips to local birding hot spots or to areas where specific birds have been spotted. Leaders in the group can help answer your questions and share their knowledge. You’ll learn a lot and meet some new people who share your interests. Here’s the link to the Mississippi Audubon website where local chapters are listed.
Birding festivals, like our Spring Birding Weekend and Mississippi River Nature Weekend, are a great place to learn more and practice birding as well. These events are attended by birders with varying levels of experience so there are leaders to help out new birders as well as educational activities.
Online Resources for Beginning Birders
- Here is an online guide to identifying birds by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology
- Florida Birding Trail: Introduction to Bird Watching Basics
- Developing your observation skills