Birdwatching is a hobby that is getting more widespread by the day. Observing birds in their natural habitat demands patience and a grasp of few basic rules, but can be very enjoyable and rewarding.
Anyone can indulge in this pursuit, and it does not demand enormous effort. Bird name databases such as Avibase, eBird, and Birdlife allow you to quickly identify every species depending on the location, size, color, and other distinguishing traits.
If you cannot travel to a sanctuary, head to the nearest forest or lake, and you are sure to find at least a few interesting species.
However, many new birdwatchers get frustrated quickly and give up after a day or two of not having much success. To avoid this happening to you, remember the following useful tips.
Essential Tips for Birdwatching Success
Most animals like silence. Birds more than most. The faintest sound can startle them. Whatever you do, refrain from speaking in loud whispers. Birds have a keen sense of hearing to avoid predators.
If you are birdwatching with others, do not use spoken words for communication. Instead, use simple hand gestures.
Being quiet is a habit. Our need for constant excitement has made us a slave to activity. Nature requires the opposite of that, and complete stillness is your ticket to first-row seats to watch your feathered friends.
Of course, it is hard to avoid a sneeze or a yelp when you get a sudden cramp. But avoid talking or rustling around as much as possible.
Binoculars are essential for birdwatching. Unless you are observing chickens at a poultry farm, it is hard to get close enough to a bird to properly observe it without binoculars.
Also, most birds in the wild are quite small. An adult goldfinch is barely six inches long. A black-capped chickadee is even smaller.
Without binoculars, it is can be impossible to identify a bird that’s a hundred feet away and on a branch thirty feet above the ground. You don’t need to spend a fortune on binoculars. Something like the Nikon Prostaff 3S is excellent for beginners, and priced a little more than $100 as of 2021. The Athlon Neos can offer reasonable quality at an even lesser cost. Of course, binocular pricing and availability can vary based on where you live, so take time to read reviews before making a purchase.
The binoculars must be fog-proof and waterproof. Most modern binoculars offer excellent color rendition and clarity.
Start Early in the Morning
“The early bird catches the worm” is a common idiom, but it’s true when it comes to birdwatching. An early birdwatcher can catch more birds in action. Most birds are not night owls. They rise before dawn and like to groom themselves. They are also rather sociable at this time and chatter among themselves.
The best time to observe birds is about half an hour after sunrise. After all, you need enough light to see in the forest. A primary reason birds are early risers is food. As the sun’s rays begin to heat the ground, worms and insects come out for birds to feed on.
Buy a Guidebook
It’s not always easy to pull out your phone and jump on the internet in the woods. Depending on your location, you might not even have reception. In these cases, an old-fashioned guidebook is extremely valuable. The oldest among these is the Observer’s Book of Birds. Most ardent birdwatchers consider the Sibley Guide to Birds as the standard among field guides. It lists only North American species.
However, depending on your location, you need a local guide. It is hardly possible to find a Downy Woodpecker in Malaysia. Your local bookstore will likely have a few. Otherwise, online retailers can provide an excellent selection of regional guidebooks.
Get a Birdfeeder
Depending on where you live, you may not even need to leave home to enjoy birdwatching. It is possible to attract them to your own backyard quite easily, allowing you to enjoy your hobby without the walking. The best way to attract birds to your yard is with a birdfeeder.
Birdfeeders come in all shapes and sizes. Most are made of plastic, but some are made of wood. Many provide perches, and come in different designs to attract different species.
Basic birdfeeders can be had for as little as $10, or around €8. You can certainly spend more for an attractive feeder, but it won’t necessarily yield better results. Birds are interested in what’s inside the feeder, not its aesthetics.
A popular seed to fill your birdfeeder with is sunflower seeds. However, depending on your region, a variety of different seeds are available. You can often buy mixes to attract local songbirds at hardware stores, lawn and garden stores, and online. A bag of seed weighing 10lbs (4.5kg) can last several months.
Just take a few handfuls and replenish the feeder daily. You can also keep a small bowl of water for them to quench their thirst.
Once birds know food is available, they will keep coming back, and more will follow. After a few months, you may be surprised how close they will allow you to get to them without being startled.
Wear Neutral Colors
To get close enough to observe birds without startling them, you need to blend into the background as well as you can. Avoid wearing bright colors; instead, opt for dark green, gray, or tan colors.
You should also make sure your clothing is loose-fitting and allows your skin to breathe. Birdwatching can involve a lot of walking, as well as sitting or standing in the same position for long periods. Avoid clothing that makes you itch or sweat.
You should also choose footwear that is comfortable, surefooted over loose terrain, and quiet. Shoes with squeaky soles can spoil birdwatching trips.
Invest in a Camera
A fun part of birdwatching is getting pictures. This allows you to remember your trip, as well as study the bird further when you get home. You can even post to online birdwatching forums or social media groups for bragging rights when you catch something elusive.
However, don’t assume the camera on your phone will be sufficient. The lenses and apertures on phone cameras are too small to let enough light in to photograph birds in dense forest canopies. Plus, the digital zoom on your phone’s camera can lead to pictures that are washed out and grainy. Instead, carry a quality DSLR with an 18-55mm lens.
It simply isn’t possible for a beginner to teach themselves everything there is to know about birdwatching. There’s just too much to learn in the field. A great way to increase your birdwatching knowledge is by joining a local birdwatching club. You can go on outings with experienced birdwatchers that allow you to learn more in a day than you would in a year by yourself.
If you’re unable to find a local birdwatching group, look online. There are numerous birdwatching groups on sites like Facebook and Reddit. The r/birding subreddit on Reddit has 145,000 members worldwide. Just remember to be careful when sharing personal information online until you know the other person well.
Nature operates on its own timetable. It isn’t concerned with your schedule or deadlines. Therefore, when birdwatching, you have to learn the art of patience.
A day or two might pass without any significant sightings. That’s perfectly okay and normal. What matters is that you enjoy the time you spend participating in your hobby.
Planning a Birdwatching Trip
After learning the basics in your local area, you may want to plan a birdwatching trip in another part of your country, or another part of the world. Different regions of the globe are populated by different species of birds, and an international trip can provide you a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to see interesting wildlife.
When planning your trip, it’s highly recommended that you invest in travel medical insurance or travel insurance. International travel can be full of opportunities for mishaps. This is especially true when your trip includes outings to the wilderness in a foreign country. It’s a smart idea to have an insurance policy in place that can provide you with financial protection in the case of something unexpected.
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