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Bird Watching For Beginners

Updated on February 13, 2017
Short Eared Owl
Short Eared Owl

Bird Watching Tips and Advice

Birding is one of the fastest growing activities on the planet. So if you are thinking about getting into this fantastic activity then let me share some tips for bird watching beginners with you.

You can learn from my mistakes so that your first adventure into the hobby of birding is as enjoyable as possible. I will cover where and when you can participate in wild bird watching, what to wear, and what to bring with you.

All Photos By: whatsittoyou

Backyard Birding

Female Northern Cardinal
Female Northern Cardinal

My first introduction to birding was with my grandmother when I was just a little kid. She had a feeder and a bath in her backyard that she could watch from her window. She also had a book with all of the local backyard birds listed in it.

In the summer we could sit on the patio and see the birds arrive for a snack or a bath. Then we could use her book to look up what type that they were. This is an easy and fairly inexpensive way to get into birding.

Tips For Backyard Birding:

  1. If you don't like squirrels, make sure you get a squirrel proof feeder. While I thought they were cute, my grandmother was forever knocking on her window yelling at the squirrels to go away.
  2. If you want to enjoy the hobby 365 days a year and you live in a colder climate like I do you need to get a heated bird bath to keep the water from freezing.
  3. The type of seeds/food that you chose to put out will affect what type of birds that you attract.

What Is Your Favorite Season For Bird Watching?

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Local Birding

Green Heron
Green Heron

I recently got back into birding when my local paper started featuring pictures of birds and listing where the photo was taken. I was fascinated by the photos and I wanted to go see them in person. So I looked up the location online, grabbed my camera, and headed over there.

The location was even better than I expected. There was a wide variety of birds to be seen. There were Herons, waterfowl, and small birds to be seen all within steps of the parking lot. Most of the people there were very friendly, even pointing out where a "snowy egret" was perched in a tree.

What I learned is when you are new don't be overanxious to share your "information". I got to talking to a couple of other people and told them about the "snowy egret". Unfortunately I pronounced it wrong as I had never heard of one until that day. It was at that point I got the "what did you call it?", along with some laughing.

It was also these "lovely" people who pointed out that my attire was wrong. You don't wear white when bird watching. It stands out and it will keep the birds away. I didn't know, I was dressing to keep cool in the hot weather, I didn't realize that I had to dress for the birds.

Birding Tips:

  1. So don't offer information or advice unless you are asked, even if you think you are being helpful. Apparently more experienced birders may feel insulted.
  2. Don't blindly believe everything you are told. After I got my Birds of Ontario book I learned that the "snowy egret' was actually a Great Egret (it has a different colored beak).
  3. You do want to dress in darker colors to blend in with the scenery.
  4. While you do want to blend in with the scenery, camouflage can be seen as overkill. The areas that I have been to people dress more like hikers rather than hunters.
  5. I have found a great website for finding the birding hot spots in your area. You can chose by location or by the type of bird you are looking for at
  6. You can also look on Facebook for bird watching groups from your area. They will post pictures and give locations as to where they can be found.

Click thumbnail to view full-size
Black Capped ChickadeeHawkBlack-Crowned Night Heron
Black Capped Chickadee
Black Capped Chickadee
Black-Crowned Night Heron
Black-Crowned Night Heron

Keep Your Feet in Mind

Another thing I learned was to carefully consider your footwear. If I stayed nearby at the first location, running shoes were perfectly fine. If I wanted to take the trail out to the bridges I was better off wearing hiking boots or Wellies when it had rained recently.

During the winter I needed to buy a warmer pair of boots. The boots that I had were fine going from location to car to location, but they were not meant for standing outdoors in the snow for long periods of time.

Standing and watching for long periods of time became tough on the feet and legs. Then I noticed some of the other bird watchers had brought little portable stools with them.

Click thumbnail to view full-size
The BridgeHand Feeding at the Bridge
The Bridge
The Bridge
Hand Feeding at the Bridge
Hand Feeding at the Bridge

Foot Comfort

KEEN Women's Targhee II Mid WP Hiking Boot
KEEN Women's Targhee II Mid WP Hiking Boot

These are a good pair of hiking boots. They have a good tread, they are waterproof, and come in a wide variety of colors.

I have found these have taken care of all my birding needs for spring, summer, and fall. They are also okay for some of the winter time except on really cold days or after a large snow fall (then I need tall winter boots).


Fall and Winter Birding

Red Breasted Merganser
Red Breasted Merganser

I found birding to be so relaxing that I wanted to keep going even when the weather got colder. While the original place I found was still a great place to go in the fall, when winter came there was very little to see. I did some research and found some other places where I would be able to bird year round.

While the new places and the new birds I have seen has been great, the weather has not been. In the fall I found dressing in layers was a good idea. When I went out in the early morning it was cold, but as the day went on it got warmer. I found a warm zippered hoodie was good for this transition time.

When it came to winter time I tried wearing my regular winter coat but I ended up having to leave quickly. It was not able to keep me warm enough, as it is more for looks than warmth. So whenever I go birdwatching in the winter I use the coat that I wear to work, which is designed to keep me warm. You need to have a warm coat (along with more layers on really cold days) or you won't be able to enjoy yourself since all you will be thinking about is how cold you are.

Cold Weather Birding Tips:

  1. Dress for the weather. Include layers so that you are ready when the weather changes.
  2. Dress for comfort (warmth) not fashion or you won't be able to stay very long or enjoy it.

Tufted Titmouse
Tufted Titmouse

Bird Watching In The Spring

Canadian Gosling
Canadian Gosling

Baby Canadian Goose

The best part about bird watching in the springtime is you get to see all of the baby birds, goslings, and ducklings. While to me the adult Canada Goose is not that impressive, I absolutely adore the goslings.

When you go looking for them try to look where the water is more calm, such as in a marina or a pond. You can read about my experience with finding and photographing Baby Canadian Geese.

Keeping Track Of Your Birding

Blue Jay
Blue Jay

People have different approaches for keeping track of the birds that they saw and when the saw them. Quite a few keep a journal logging all of the information. You write down your observations and can later look up what kind of bird that you saw.

This can help you to track not only what, where, and when, but also any other observations.

Personally I take my camera with me so I can take pictures of the birds. I then transfer the pictures onto my computer and add all of the relevant information that I want. I find this works the best for me as it makes it easier when trying to figure on what type of bird it was that I saw.

With the computer you can zoom the picture in even more to pick up the fine details that you may have missed out in the field. Plus I am not an artist by any stretch of the imagination so there is no way I could make a good sketch of my sightings. The camera can also save me money as it acts as my pair of binoculars while birding, but it also works for photographing on other occasions.

How To Log Your Findings

Rite in the Rain All Weather Spiral Notebook, 4 5/8" x 7", Yellow Cover, Birders Journal (No. 195)
Rite in the Rain All Weather Spiral Notebook, 4 5/8" x 7", Yellow Cover, Birders Journal (No. 195)

This is an excellent journal for out in the field. It is small so it will easily fit in your pocket. It is also waterproof in case you get caught in bad weather.

Canon EOS Rebel T5 with 18-55mm and 75-300mm Lenses
Canon EOS Rebel T5 with 18-55mm and 75-300mm Lenses

This is the camera and zoom lens that I own. It was what was used to take all of the pictures shown in this article.


Creating Art From Your Photographs

Another benefit of using your camera to keep track of the birds that you see is you can create art. You can take the photographs of the birds that you saw and post them online to share with your friends and family.

You could also use the photographs to give as gifts to other bird or nature lovers. There are also places on the web where you can offer your photographs for sale. One of the most popular sites is Fine Art America where they have a variety of photographs including bird of prey art for sale.

Do You Have Any Birding Tips or Advice?

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    • Mel Carriere profile image

      Mel Carriere 3 years ago from San Diego California

      You've got some very impressive pictures here, to say the least. I too am a birdwatching fan and I have a bird blog, but I am no photographer. I just don't have the patience for it. Great hub!

    • MariaMontgomery profile image

      MariaMontgomery 3 years ago from Central Florida, USA

      I now live in central Florida, and really enjoy seeing the Sand Hill Cranes, Great Blue Herons, and Egrets. They are all so funny sometimes. Thanks for sharing your tips.

    • Hairdresser007 profile image

      James Jordan 4 years ago from Burbank, CA

      At my park there is a pair of great horned howls that have 3 chicks. I noticed a bunch of people looking up. My advice find the nicest smiler and ask what is up. I met a great man who explained to me about their history and even let me look at them with his binoculars.

    • profile image

      Colin323 4 years ago

      There is a great pecking order, excuse the pun, on and around my bird table. The punch-ups I witnessed today between the Green and Bull-finches, with Robins getting stuck in too, reminded me of a city centre scene at pub closing time.

      Great lens; it's a fascinating hobby, but I think I prefer watching the birds without too many fellow Twitchers around.

    • Babu Mohan profile image

      Mohan Babu 4 years ago from Chennai, India

      Very nice lens. We do get some attractive avian visitors to our garden. Keeping water in trays help in places accessed by birds. I need to make a small bird home made out of recycled material. This is pending because of sheer inertia.

    • WriterJanis2 profile image

      WriterJanis2 4 years ago

      Just have to Pin this.

    • AnonymousC831 profile image

      AnonymousC831 4 years ago from Kentucky

      I loved reading this lens, I like to watch and photograph birds. Beautiful pictures and great lens.

    • aminebombom profile image

      Amine 4 years ago from Doha, Qatar

      First thank you for the great article, well my advice if you have canary birds give them chicken eggs as you finish boiling it leave it to cool down and then cut it in half with its cover (i don't know the word in english sorry) and the will adore it, and you can give them apple slices they love it, and also dattes.

      By the way is the sing bird in the picture a hépi zebra-finch ?

    • DawnRae64 profile image

      Dawn 4 years ago from Maryland, USA

      What a wonderful lens about birding. I'm glad I found your link in the forums.

    • Diana Wenzel profile image

      Renaissance Woman 4 years ago from Colorado

      The main birding advice I would offer is just get out there. Patience is a virtue. Be willing to just be. If you sit quietly in one place, the birds will come to you eventually. Don't try to bird when you are in a hurry. I love birding more than almost anything. Appreciated your tips and beautiful photos.

    • Elsie Hagley profile image

      Elsie Hagley 4 years ago from New Zealand

      My tip is just look after them, feed them if they need extra feeding. Enjoy them.

    • Pat Goltz profile image

      Pat Goltz 4 years ago

      I have been birding for over four years, and I can't travel far, but my life list is up to 280. Hope to make 300 by the end of the year. I know people who have upwards of 500 on their lists, and that's just awesome. I can't wear hiking boots, which is a disadvantage, but I wear shoes that fit my feet well (so they won't slip off) and have good tread, and if it's a more challenging place, I have been known to climb on hands and knees and shinny down on my backside. I haven't found a place yet that I can't navigate somehow. I always have a camera, and I have two lenses I use. One goes out to 680mm with an extender, and the other goes out to 1300mm, and if the light is good enough, I can hand-hold that one. I have become involved in the birding community as well. Most birders carry binoculars, and some carry scopes. I can't afford to buy these things, and don't need the extra weight. A 3 legged stool is really important, and I have one that is so light I don't even notice I'm carrying it. Sometimes I just sit for awhile and wait for a bird to show up.

    • Whatsittoyou profile image

      Whatsittoyou 4 years ago from Canada

      @LiteraryMind: It is a Female Northern Cardinal.

    • LiteraryMind profile image

      Ellen Gregory 4 years ago from Connecticut, USA

      I just started last year, but I am discovering new things just by observing. For instance, the woodpeckers seem to like to feed on the hanging suet cakes of seeds rather than a flat dish. On the hanging seeds, they can hang on in the same upright position, parallel to the feeder as they would on a tree. And....... I would really like to know what kind of bird is in the second photo from the top. Some kind of cardinal? A cardinal juvenile?

    • ecogranny profile image

      Kathryn Grace 4 years ago from San Francisco

      Afraid not, but I wanted to say that your photography is gorgeous. Your photographs are so professional, and what amazing captures. Thank you for sharing your love of birding.

    • Merrci profile image

      Merry Citarella 4 years ago from Oregon's Southern Coast

      I haven't but would enjoy trying it. Love your photos! Sweet shots of sweet subjects. Thanks for the interesting information.

    • MJ Martin profile image

      MJ Martin aka Ruby H Rose 4 years ago from Washington State

      I have to remember to have my camera ready before I see the birds or get to their spot. Otherwise I am so excited and busy trying to get the "shot" that I miss the quality time and peacefulness of bird watching. I'd like to get an outdoor camera I could just set up someplace. Our squirrels or raccoons would probably take it.

    • Judy Filarecki profile image

      Judy Filarecki 4 years ago from SW Arizona and Northern New York

      Thanks for sharing your tips and the wonderful photos. I tend to be a backyard birder with a long lens on my camera. Checking out where birds have been spotted by other people is a good idea. I may start to take more time this summer since Iove to paint birds from photos I have taken.

    • profile image

      SteveKaye 4 years ago

      Birding is a wonderful way to connect with nature. First, you'll gain the health benefit of walking outdoors. And second, you'll be able to observe wildlife doing amazing things. Some of this will be so astonishing, you'll cherish the memory for the rest of your life.

    • Country-Sunshine profile image

      Country Sunshine 4 years ago from Texas

      Like you, my Grandmother introduced me to bird watching. She always had out feeders, and could identify them by sight. I don't go birdwatching, but I do feed the wild birds in my backyard. This is a great article with a lot of information. And I love the photos!