Birdwatching Tips

I have been birdwatching for nearly 30 years now and have been a “professional” birder for almost 2 years and whilst I would not claim to be the perfect birdwatcher I hope that in this lens I can pass on a few tips and tricks that I have learned to other birdwatchers.

Although birdwatching is a hobby, something that is done for enjoyment, there are many ways to become a better birdwatcher in terms of finding birds, recording birds, being more sympathetic to birds needs and contributing to bird conservation.

Currently, this lens, “How to be a good birdwatcher” , gives 16 tips on how to be a good birdwatcher but more will be added. Hopefully birdwatchers can use these tips to see more birds and to contribute towards bird conservation.

Birdwatching Merchandise

Get the kit to help you become a good birdwatcher

There are many products to help you become a good birdwatcher at the Online Nature Mall, with a large range of books, binoculars, feeders and many other bird-related products.  

1. Learn Bird Songs and Calls

A good birdwatcher can see more birds if he/she knows bird calls

Some birds are conspicuous and easily seen. Many other species, however, are more easily located by their call and others can really only be identified by call.Learning bird calls not only makes finding and identifying birds easier, it also allows birdwatchers to learn more about bird behaviour: I learned about the mimickry abilities of Reed Warblers by identifying the calls of 14 species in the song of one individual. 

Furthermore, many species can be enjoyed for their calls and songs and ignorance of them can limit birdwatchers’ enjoyment. Skylarks singing in the summer are one of my favourites and Drongos mimicking sounds such as car alarms are superb.

By following this tip one will increase the number of birds seen enormously.

These recordings of birdsong from various parts of the world should help many birders familiarise themselves with the calls they need to know.

2. Become a member of your local Birdlife International Partner

Support bird conservation

“BirdLife International is a global Partnership of conservation organisations that strives to conserve birds, their habitats and global biodiversity, working with people towards sustainability in the use of natural resources.” – Birdlife International.

By joining your national Birdlife International partner you will be supporting bird conservation projects near your home. Projects range from directly conserving habitats for birds to increasing awareness of conservation issues amongst local peoples.

A list of global Birdlife International partners can be found here: Birdlife International partners.

Join The RSPB

The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds is one of the world’s most effective conservation bodies

If you are from the UK then your birdlife partner is the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds. They are one of the most effective bird conservation bodies in the world with hundreds of reserves, conservation action on issues such as climate change and overfishing, and they are now involved in rainforest conservation in Sumatra.Please consider joining them by clicking on this banner. 

3. Do A Bird Survey

Conducting bird surveys really helps birders discover more about the species being surveyed. One can either take part in surveys organised by various conservation bodies or start some self-initiated surveys.Taking part in organised surveys is a good way to help provide data that can be used in conservation planning and also in making birding contacts. The RSPB have an annual garden birdwatch survey that people are encouraged to help with 

Self-initiated surveys can give birders a real insight into their survey area/species and can stimulate others’ interest and research into the area. Surveys can be as simple as recording the numbers of birds that daily come into a garden or as complex as plotting the territories of a certain species within ones local patch. A survey like this might well reveal locally or nationally important numbers of a species in the area. Take a look at some surveying I have done in Thailand to see what I mean: Waterbird Counts at Muang Boran Fishponds.

4. Buy a Digital Camera

Taking a digital camera on all birding trips/walks in the countryside will give you a valuable tool for obtaining record shots of species which are notable. Even a simple compact camera will give shots good enough for verification of many species.Carrying a camera will also give the opportunity of taking shots of any illegal, bird disturbing behaviour such as trapping, netting, shooting etc so that it can be used as proof of the crime, such as below. 

Taking a digital camera will also allow one to get some nice photos to illustrate a birding blog. Uploading them to Flickr and create nice thumbnail galleries like the one above.

With a more expensive camera, excellent shots of the birds themselves can be taken. One of the advantages of bird photography is that staying in one place photographing a bird can often lead to the discovery of other species and certainly allows more time to study the behaviour and plumage of the bird being photographed. Photographs also allow for the later identification of difficult species.

Some Bird Photographs

Yellow Tailed Oriole by bgv23
Tukang Malas @  Large-tailed Nightjar by laloq3
Treetop great blue heron by wolfpix
I've got my dander up...... by law_keven
curated content from Flickr

5. Start A Birdwatching Blog

A great way to record and share your bird observations

Keeping a birding blog is really only like a digital version of the more traditional notes that many birders would write after a trip. The advantage of a blog is that it is available for others to see and can serve as a source of encouragement to others, a place for people to share their knowledge and somewhere for birders to spread conservation messages.

By keeping a birding blog it is remarkable how quickly one is able to become an authority figure in the field.

A birdwatching blog can also serve as a place for the self-publication of short ornithological projects and field notes/sketches.

For those of you who are still sceptical about blogging your bird sightings and thoughts about birds, take a look at my birding blog. It’s not perfect but keeping it has certainly increased my interest, enthusiasm and observational and recording skills.

Free blogs can be started here Blogger or here WordPress.

Thailand Birding: Finding A Java Sparrow
Although I have lived in Bangkok for years I have never taken the effort to go and track down any of…
Thailand Birding: Asian Golden Weaver
The large majority of birders visit Thailand between the months of November and March, which is a gr…
Thailand Birding: Spoon-billed Sandpiper
Lots of people have been e-mailing me about Spoon-billed Sandpiper recently. With the species contin…
Thailand Birding: Year List 2009
Whilst I am not a twitcher (tried it and don’t like it at all), nor do I usually chase birds in any…
Thailand Birding: Chiffchaff calling at Chavit Park, Bangkok.
Walking along Sukhumvit Road, Bangkok, this afternoon I heard the distinctive call of a Chiffchaff a…

6. Get some good quality Binoculars

Binoculars are the most basic tool that birders need. It is possible to appreciate birds with the naked eye but to really observe a large number of species a pair of binoculars are absolutely essential.For beginners a pair of 8×30 or 8×40 binoculars are ideal. 8 is the magnification and 30 or 40 is the field of view. The wider the field of view, the more light that enters the binoculars making for a better quality image particularly in low light conditions. 

For more advanced birders 10×40 or 10×50 binoculars are superb. The greater magnification

Olympus 8×40 Binoculars

These are a really good pair of binoculars for beginners and casual birders. The wide field of view and 8x magnification make locating birds through these binoculars quite easy. The quality of the lenses on these binoculars is good and overall these are an excellent value for money pair of binoculars for beginners and a useful spare pair for experienced birders.Olympus America Inc Binocular Trooper 8X40 Dps 1 118755 118755

Olympus America Inc Binocular Trooper 8X40


More Beginners’ Binoculars

This is another excellent pair of binoculars for those who don’t want to invest lots of money in an expensive pair. Again, the combination of 8x magnification with a wide field of view allows in lots of light and makes locating birds easy.
Eagle Optics Triumph 8×42

7. Get a Harness Strap

Although it may seem a little silly, a harness strap is an excellent addition to the birdwatcher’s equipment list. By distributing the weight of ones binoculars or camera over the back, fatigue can be reduced. If in the field for a whole day, particularly in hot conditions, having the whole weight of ones binoculars on the neck can be very tiring and a tired birder is a less vigilant birder. With less fatigue birders can stay vigilant and spot more birds for longer.

Vortex Harness Strap

Amazon Price: (as of 03/02/2011) Buy Now

8. Learn to Walk Quietly

I frequently take people birdwatching in tropical forests and it is amazing how much noise even experienced birders can make; to see many species of ground dwelling birds one MUST walk as quietly as possible. Although it can be difficult to walk quietly on a forest floor littered with leaves, clinging vines, spiky thorns and fallen logs, one can learn to minimise the noise in a number of ways;1. Lift ones feet for every step rather than scuffing along.
2. Place your feet on sturdy rocks, logs and mud rather than treading on leaves and twigs which will make noise.
3. Walk very slowly and deliberately instead of rushing along.
4. Place ones heels down first and slowly ease the rest of the foot down instead of crashing the whole of the foot to the ground in one go.
5. When on roads, walk on compressed surfaces and not on loose gravel.
6. Learnt to use ones whole body when walking to swerve past hanging branches etc rather than taking extra, noisy, steps around them. 

Finally, one piece of information that will seem contrary to what most people have been taught: that is to wear trainers/sneakers rather than boots. Although boots give more protection, they also restrict movement and result in a rather noisy, crashing footfall, whereas trainers/sneakers give your foot the suppleness to walk quietly.

Mens ASICS GT-2130 Running Shoe

Amazon Price: (as of 03/02/2011) Buy Now

Womens ASICS GEL-Kayano 14 Running Shoe

Amazon Price: (as of 03/02/2011) Buy Now

9. Feed The Birds

Feeding birds is a wonderful way to see birds close up and to take time to observe features such as feather detail, colours, intricate patterns and other features that are difficult to discern at long range.Birdwatching at bird feeders really allows you to become familiar with distinctive behaviour of certain species and identifying them in the field will become instantaneous just from the characteristic flick of a wing, flight pattern etc. 

Feeding birds in the garden is also a great way of helping certain species and many migratory birds such as hummingbirds become dependent on certain feeding stations on their route. Certain species have come to reply on backgarden feeding stations to survivie through the harsh northern winter as agricultural processes have changed.

Bird & Feeder

Homemade Bird Food Recipes & Bird Feeding

Make your own bird food and feeders using the information in this e-book: Easy To Make Homemade Bird Food Recipes and Bird Feeding.This is the first e-book I have ever purchased and whilst I found it simple and compact, it certainly contains some interesting ideas on making food for specific bird species as well as a very useful reference guide to which species are attracted to which foods. At only £7.95 with a 100% no questions asked money back guarantee if you don’t like it, this e-book is worth a look for those interested in backyard bird feeding and wild bird food recipes. 

10. Get Yourself a “Local Patch”

A local patch is an area that a birdwatcher goes to on a regular basis and is close to his/her home. A local patch can be your backgarden, some fields or wasteland within walking distance of your home, a park, some woodland or a recognised nature reserve.The point about a local patch is to go regularly. 

By birdwatching in the same place on a regular basis you will notice things about bird behaviour, migration, habitat preference, courtship displays, feeding activity and suchlike that you would not be aware of without such regular watching. This is how experts become experts.

One of the appeals of having a local patch that is unique to yourself is that it feels close to your heart and the birds will become your own and with this intimacy you will learn things that you would not without it. Also, you will quickly become the world expert on your local patch.

11. Subscribe To A Birdwatching Magazine

Birdwatching magazines are a fantastic source of information on all things related to birdwatching and the editors and contributors are constantly writing articles to help birdwatchers understand birds and to find birds.Usually, birdwatching magazines have a letters page where questions are answered, talk about conservation issues, give tips on bird identification, contain articles on where to watch birds and carry reviews of optical equipment and books. 

Certainly, regularly reading birdwatching magazines has helped me learn a lot and they will continue to do so.

WildBird (2-year)

Amazon Price: $20.00 (as of 03/02/2011)Buy Now

WildBird educates and entertains readers with useful details about North American birds and birding – in readers’ back yards and in the entire Western Hemisphere. WildBird encourages readers to share their appreciation for birds and to consider beginner’s education and habitat conservation as means of ensuring avian species’ survival.

Another Great Birdwatching Magazine

I have read this magazine (Bird Watching) for years and can highly recommend it for its excellent identification tips, reviews, bird watching locations write-ups and general birdwatching information. It is a UK-based publication.

Bird Watching

Amazon Price: $117.16 (as of 03/02/2011) Buy Now

12. Use an Umbrella

Being an outdoor pursuit, birdwatchers are inevitably going to get wet sometimes (or more than sometimes). Rain can really make birdwatching difficult as birds shelter and raindrops make every leaf move, making it difficult to spot birds in foliage.Well, an umbrella cannot help that, but what it can do (at least in light rain) is to protect you from the worst of the weather, protect you binoculars and at the same time still allow you to listen. Using an umbrella, rather than a hood, allows you to still hear any birds that may call, whereas a hood makes a constant rustling noise next to your ears. 

How do I Hold an Umbrella and binoculars?
To do this, you will need the type of umbrella that has a sturdy, long handle, preferably with a hook at the end. The hook can be used to fasten the umbrella to your belt whilst not using it, keeping your hands free. When it is raining and you need to hold the umbrella and your binoculars, the hook can be used to counterbalance the parasol as you rest it over your shoulder. In this fashion, the umbrella can balance on your shoulder, protecting you and your binoculars from the rain, leaving your hands free to hold your optics steady.

It takes some practice, but it isn’t that difficult.

Oh, one more thing! Don’t forget to get a dark-coloured umbrella so as not to scare the birds away.

No Drip Rain Umbrella – Black

Amazon Price: $15.99 (as of 03/02/2011) Buy Now

Raines Golf Umbrella (Assorted Colors)

Amazon Price: $9.39 (as of 03/02/2011) Buy Now

13. Get a Good Identification Guide

Identifying birds can be tricky, particularly with species that look very similar. Getting a well-researched, well-illustrated and reliable field guide is not as easy as it would seem when looking at the huge number available. Good field guides usually have a number of features;1. A good field guide will usually have illustrations rather than photographs.
2. A good field guide will have a number of illustrations of each species, showing both sexes, juveniles and other plumages.
3. Good field guides will have clear range maps on the same or opposite page to the illustrations.
4. The best field guides have informative text, outlining distinctive behaviours, features, habitats that will help identify the bird.
5. A good field guide will have well-spaced illustrations that are clearly numbered, rather than have overcrowded plates.
6. The best field guides are illustrated by 1 or 2 artists so that there is consistency in the plates. 

The Sibley Field Guides are recognised as the best for North America; they are perhaps the best field guides in the world.

The Sibley Field Guide to Birds of Eastern North America

by: David Allen Sibley, Rick Cech

Amazon Price: $13.57 (as of 03/02/2011) Buy Now

The Sibley Field Guide to Birds of Western North America

by: David Allen Sibley

Amazon Price: $12.14 (as of 03/02/2011) Buy Now

Birdwatching Field Guide for Europe

In my opinion, Bird Guide, the Birds of Britain and Europe is the outstanding field guide for this region. The illustrations are excellent and accurate, the text is extremely helpful and the range maps are clear. I highly recommend this book.

Bird Guide: The Most Complete Field Guide to the Birds of Britain and Europe

by: Lars Svensson, Peter J. Grant

Amazon Price: (as of 03/02/2011) Buy Now

More Field Guides

The Helm range of identification guides for different regions and different bird families are some of the best published.
featured lens Helm Bird Identification Guides
The Helm series of Field Guides and Identification Guides are a superb set of resources for birders, birdwatchers and ornithologists alike. I have been birdwatching for more than 30 years and as I have become a more serious ornithologist I have become…

14. Understand the Limitations of Field Guides

This may seem contrary to tip number 13, but as essential as field guides are to birdwatchers, it is also important to understand that they have limitations; they are not closed books.Even in parts of the world, like North America and Europe, where there are many birdwatchers and species are well understood, there are still many things to learn about bird behaviour, ecology and even their range. By the time a field guide is published, some of the information will be out of date; some birds will have become rarer, some birds will have expanded their range and some may have disappeared altogether. 

Field guides for the most heavily watched parts of the world will be the most accurate, but those for areas that are less intensively watched will very much be “guide” books and there will much to add and to improve to them.

Use field guides as a guide, but make detailed observations and use all the information available to you, sometimes behaviour or habitat is much more useful than just simply looking at the illustrations.

15. Get a Copy of 101 Ways to Help Birds by Laura Ericsson

Becoming a better birdwatcher is also about how you can help birds and assist bird conservation. The more time spent finding out about ways to help birds is more time spent understanding birds; understanding their ecology, behaviour, habits and needs. As you learn more about these aspects of birds you become more proficient in finding birds and identifying them.Apart from anything else, helping birds can be fun. 

101 Ways to Help Birds

by: Laura Erickson

Amazon Price: $14.96 (as of 03/02/2011) Buy Now
Used Price: $0.01

16. Look For Sources of Water

Birds, like all living things, require water. Most birds need to drink regularly and to do so they require a water source. During times of low availability of water, birds’ requirement to drink can be used advantageously in finding birds.In times of drought small puddles in a river bed, the vestiges of a dried up lake or an ornamental pond can be excellent places to wait and observe birds when they come to drink. This tactic can sometimes lead to sightings of very secretive birds which are seldom seen as they are forced to go to the few remaining water sources available. 

Remember that water shortages occur during very cold weather as well as very hot.

In very cold times most standing water will freeze and this means that the avilability of drinking water is reduced. Not only that, but birds which feed in the water will find it hard to forage. Finding an area of unfrozen water or creating one will mean that birders can enjoy views of many species as they come to drink and/or feed. On my local patch there is a spring fed watercress bed which does not freeze and in very cold winters is a superb place to see many species such as Woodcock, Snipe, Green Sandpiper, Grey Wagtail, Water Rail and even Bittern.

Bird Baths

Provide birds with a water source

Providing a water source for birds can allow birdwatchers to see more birds in their garden and help birds survive through very hot and very cold weather.

Lixit Quick Lock Plastic Bird Bath 5in x 3in

Amazon Price: $10.55 (as of 03/02/2011) Buy Now

My Birdwatching Equipment

This lens gives a run down of the equipment that I use when birdwatching – all of this equipment I can personally recommend.
featured lens Birdwatching Equipment That I Can Personally Recommend
As a lifelong birdwatcher I have used a large number of binoculars, telescopes, cameras, identification guides and other birdwatching equipment. However, not all of it is exactly what one would hope for. In this lens I will talk about the birdwatching…

Now How to be a BAD Birdwatcher

Bad birdwatchers are really good birdwatchers

How to be a Bad Birdwatcher: To the Greater Glory of Life

by: Simon Barnes

Amazon Price: (as of 03/01/2011)Buy Now

This charming book details how birds bring light into our lives at many levels and how almost everyone is a birdwatcher to some degree. Indeed, this book delights in that the bad birdwatchers may just be the best birdwatchers after all. An excellent read for anyone who has an interest in birds, be it feeding them in the garden or watching them on country walks.

My Other Birdwatching Lenses

featured lens Birdwatching in Thailand – My Favourite Birds
I have been birdwatching in Britain since I was just 7 years old, but in comparison, birdwatching in Thailand can be a most amazing experience due to the huge variety of species. Biodiversity is very high in tropical Asia and this is reflected by alm…
featured lens Helm Bird Identification Guides
The Helm series of Field Guides and Identification Guides are a superb set of resources for birders, birdwatchers and ornithologists alike. I have been birdwatching for more than 30 years and as I have become a more serious ornithologist I have become…
featured lens Great Gifts for Bird Lovers
Sometimes buying gifts for Christmas, birthdays or as a thank you can be really difficult. However, buying gifts for bird lovers is really easy, particularly those bird lovers with a garden, as a new bird feeder, bird table or other device designed t…
featured lens Birdwatching in Asia
Asia is a superb continent for birdwatching; extending across a vast area of the globe the variety of birdlife is incredible. With many countries in Asia being easily and cheaply accessible, birdwatchers can travel Asia for many years and always find…
featured lens Birdwatching In Britain – My Favourite Birds
I have been birdwatching for over 30 years now and a number of species have become favourites of mine. Most of my favourite birds make my list because of something personal to me and not because they are rare, colourful or iconic species; in fact the…

Source: Squidoo


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