Tips for Beginning Birders
By John Askildsen
Birdwatching 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
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
suggestions provided below are just some of the things you can do to become a
successful and proficient “birder.” Good luck!
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!
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.
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
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
Clubs and Associations
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
See the American Birding Association’s website for more information.
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.
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.
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
Copyright © 2004 Bedford Audubon Society
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