Bedford Audubon Society

Bedford Audubon Society

A Northern Westchester & Eastern Putnam Counties, New York
Chapter of the National Audubon Society

Celebrating 100 Years of Conservation 1913 — 2013
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Birding 101
Tips for Beginning Birders
By John Askildsen

Birding at Cape CodBirdwatching is one of the fastest growing hobbies in the United States, and may soon eclipse golfing as the nation’s most favored pastime and recreational activity. You have joined the ranks of over 46 million people, who find nature and the marvelous world of birds to be a captivating hobby. But be careful, birdwatching, or “birding” as the indoctrinated refer to the activity, is an addictive habit!

The activity of birding can take many forms. Some people spend their weekends and vacations looking for new and exciting destinations; traveling to all corners of North America—Florida, California, Maine, Texas, or Alaska. Other people even travel to far-flung places such as South America, Africa, Australia, and the Antarctic to get a “fix” to satisfy their addiction. But as a new birder, while these destinations may be on your horizon, we recommend you begin your birding activities right in your own backyard. The first thing to do is to purchase a bird feeder and seed, and start feeding and identifying your local feeder birds. This will be enough of a challenge for you at first. After mastering your backyard birds, then start going afield to identify your local birds away from your backyard.

The suggestions provided below are just some of the things you can do to become a successful and proficient “birder.” Good luck!

The first thing to do is to purchase some simple items that are the basic tools you need to begin birding. They include binoculars, a field guide, and a checklist. Deciding which binoculars are right for you, at first, may seem confusing. So we will assist you in your decision-making process.

Binoculars are available in many brands and different powers (levels of magnification), and most importantly, prices! One can spend $75.00 to $2,000.00 on binoculars. To simplify matters for you, we make the following recommendations. First, decide what your budget is. Low-end binoculars will be functional, but will lack clarity, color, brightness, resolution, and durability over the medium to high end products. However, they may be just right for you as a beginner, so don’t count them out immediately.

Binoculars must be comfortable for you when using them, so if you have small hands, look for smaller, lighter weight models, as opposed to buying the “big boys.” We recommend 7X to 10X power binoculars, with armor coating. We do not recommend “mini” binoculars that are used for operas and horse racing. They are not appropriate for birding, and constant use will result in poor views and eyestrain We also recommend not using your grandfather’s relic binoculars that he used when he served in the Navy in WWII, that have been sitting in your attic for decades. They are a family keepsake, but not useful for birding. So for your sake, keep them in the attic!

A telescope can be very useful tool for observing distant, stationary birds such as shorebirds, ducks, and hawks. Most binoculars and scopes on the market today, are geared towards birding, and are pretty good, even at the low-end.

Field Guides
There are many field guides on the market right now. Your first guide should be one geared towards the beginner. Traditionally the American birders first guide is Petersen’s Field Guide to the Birds, Eastern Edition. You may also want to look at the Stokes guides and the National Geographic guide. The National Geographic guide and the newly released Sibley Guide to Birds are written with the assumption that the reader has the basic knowledge of birds as a foundation. Nonetheless, they are all worth having in your library, especially the Sibley guide. A guide on where to find birds, also known as a “bird finding guide,” can also be of great help to you.

Sean Prockter has written an identification guide to sparrows. Click here to download your copy.

Checklists and Diaries
Checklists are a very important item for you to have. A checklist of your local birds will give you an immediate and easy reference to what you expect in your area. This will let you narrow down the possibilities when you are identifying a bird in your local park. The large woodpecker in your yard is not an Ivory-billed Woodpecker; it is a Pileated Woodpecker. A checklist will help you make that conclusion. Contact Bedford Audubon Society for a checklist of the birds of New York State, Westchester County, and BAS’s Hunt-Parker Sanctuary in Katonah.

A birding diary or journal is an important item to have and use. You will find that once you start identifying birds, whether it is in your backyard, down the road, or on another continent, you will want to refer back at some point to see when you saw your first Cerulean Warbler and where it was. Or you may want to know which trip to Costa Rica rewarded you with your first Resplendent Quetzal. A birding journal or diary will assist you in keeping your notes, thoughts, and personal birding experiences well documented.

Different birds live in different habitats. Chickadees and nuthatches live in woodlands and suburban woodlots, Meadowlarks, Indigo Buntings and Bobolinks live in open field habitats. Learning about the different habitats in your area, and the habitat preferences of your local birds, will assist you in your bird identification process.

Clubs and Associations
BAS Trip to the Adirondacks
Joining an Audubon Chapter will open up many new doors to you as a beginning birder. The Bedford Audubon Society has informative monthly programs and several field trips every month to destinations that you otherwise may not know about. Bedford Audubon’s field trips are planned and led by veteran birders, who cater to beginning to advanced birders. All are welcome, whatever your level is. Bedford Audubon takes pride in the fact that our leaders are very skilled in the art of teaching. We guarantee that you won’t feel like a neophyte, or that you are “under-whelmed” as a medium to advanced birder. To become a member please click on our membership page that is marked at the bottom of this document.  You will find that our society is filled with friendly people, who are always willing to welcome new members.

Subscriptions to magazines will keep you informed with timely information, too. For the beginner, we recommend Birdwatcher’s Digest. If you feel up to the challenge, why not subscribe to Birding magazine published by the American Birding Association? Initially, you may feel like the content is over your head, before long, you will appreciate the quality of this national birdwatching publication. See the American Birding Association’s website for more information.

Tufted Titmice and other birds enjoy whole peanutsBring the Birds to You
Attracting birds to your property is not a difficult task. There are a couple of very easy steps you may take in order to attract birds right away. First, establish a bird feeding station with a variety of seeds to attract a wide diversity of birds. A major attractant for birds is fresh water. Consider a birdbath in addition to your winter feeder. Please see our “Bird Feeding Brief” at the bottom of this document for more information.

Your summer garden can be a wonderful place to bring in the birds. With not a lot of planning, you can make your garden into excellent habitat for wild birds. Native plants, low, brushy growth, lots of blooming flowers and water, will attract a wide variety of birds.

If you follow the general recommendations offered in this discussion, you will be a successful birder in no time.

Birders in the Adirondacks Photo copyright © by Curtis R. Lew
Birders at Cape Cod and Tufted Titmouse photos Courtesy of and Copyright © by Rick Paris

Copyright © 2004 Bedford Audubon Society
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