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Ten Steps to a Successful Birding Adventure

Updated on May 27, 2011
Hoatzin (Opisthocomus hoazin)
Hoatzin (Opisthocomus hoazin) | Source

Bird watching has become one of the most popular pastimes worldwide. By the turn of the millennium it was estimated that there were over 70 million birders in the United States alone. This number has steadily increased over the years resulting in an economic boon for travel agencies as well as conservationist.

With this enthusiasm comes the desire to journey beyond ones home environment to encounter birds that are endemic to other states, countries or continents. The term “twitcher” was coined to describe people who will travel great distances so that they may observe rare or unusual species. This desire to see the more than 10,000 birds that inhabit the earth is growing at an extraordinary rate and is being recognized as a viable travel industry. 

Masked Trogon (Trogon personatus)
Masked Trogon (Trogon personatus) | Source

Planning your Adventure

As your enthusiasm for birding increases you will develop a thirst for more exotic pursuits. Many people save their pennies for years to take that excursion of a lifetime. Others plan for yearly events as part of their vacations or annual retreats. Whatever the reason, spending time to prepare for the expedition will not only heighten the enjoyment but prove beneficial both psychologically and economically.

Step 1 - Self-Evaluation

A true self-evaluation of your birding prowess can prove to be the most important step in having a successful journey. This will define what you expect to gain from the experience as well as what assistance you may require while searching the countryside for your quarry.

What level of birding expertise are you? How well can you identify the different families of birds that you have presently experienced? Why are you going on this expedition; strictly to observe the avifauna or to learn more about the area or country that you are visiting? These types of questions will determine whether you should choose a package tour or arrange for something more flexible. It will also dictate if you will require the assistance of local guides or if you can travel independently. Being honest with yourself about your abilities will help you make these decisions.

Step 2 - Establish a Budget

First determine what you can afford to spend on this excursion and then design the trip to fit within that budget. If you spend more than what you are comfortable with it will detract from the enjoyment of the adventure. Take all factors into consideration; travel, lodging, food, guide service, immunizations (if traveling to a foreign country), visas, travel insurance and airport taxes. Also include an emergency fund for those unforeseen events. If you do not need it you can always buy that extra souvenir at the airport when traveling home.

During your budget planning you need to decide what types of accommodations you require. High-end hotels and lodges will cost many time more than a smaller hosteria or hostel. Dining at gourmet restaurants can have a greater affect on your budget than partaking of the local cuisine. Will you use public transportation at your destination or rent a vehicle? Once you have determined all of this you will have a better idea of how much time you can spend on your vacation. Do not expand your budget to fit your allotted time, schedule your time to fit your budget. Doing the reverse will only distract you from your objective.

Red-headed Barbet (Eubucco Bourcierii)
Red-headed Barbet (Eubucco Bourcierii) | Source

Step 3 - Define Your Objectives

Having a definite idea of what you want to accomplish on your adventure will help you plan your itinerary. Is your objective to spend all of your time in search of new species or do you plan on some leisurely travel as well? Do you need to schedule a shopping day to bring souvenirs back to family and friends? Is there more than one area that you wish to visit during your stay? Defining these objectives will give you a better idea of whether they are feasible within the budget and time allotted. You may find that you need to narrow your view of what can be accomplished. If your objectives are unreasonable you will be disappointed because they are unattainable. 

Step 4 - Determine Your Port of Entry

Other than certain endemics, birds usually have a range that covers more than one state, country or continent. For this reason you need to determine what location is going to put you at the heart of your chosen objective. For example, some species that can be found in Ecuador can also be observed in Colombia or Peru. Which country would better meet your needs based on the objectives you established in Step 3? Which location has the best accessibility to the target quarry? 

Step 5 - Research Your Destination

Culture plays a large part in ones enjoyment of traveling. Whether crossing state lines or oceans, there are many societal differences that should be understood before making your trip. In developing nations it is not uncommon for street vendors and small markets to have little cash on-hand for change. It is therefore advantages for the visitor to carry small denomination to avoid embarrassment. Understand the monetary system in the country where you may be traveling as well as the exchange rate. A little foreknowledge can help you avoid difficult situations and provide for a more relaxing expedition. 

Step 6 - Calculate the Best Time of Year

Although any period of time during the year is good for viewing birds, your target species may not inhabit your intended destination all twelve months. If your objectives established in Step 3 had specific avifauna under consideration, it is best to ensure that you are at the right place during the correct season. This advanced planning can help avoid frustrating situations that may arise. There may also be certain times when it is not advisable to visit a particular destination due to holidays, travel restrictions or political unrest. 

Step 7 - Check the Weather

Just as you need to be aware of the best time of the year for observing your target species, you also need to be prepared for the climate you will encounter. Some areas are hot and dry while others, such as the tropical rainforest, will be humid and wet. Pack your wardrobe according to the climate that you will encounter. Also, weather can be unpredictable so be prepared for any emergencies.

Step 8 - Study Your Prey

Be familiar with the biodiversity of the areas where you will be traveling. There are many books available covering the species of each location. The Internet is also filled with a plethora of sites ready to assist with your research. Make lists for the areas that you can use to check-off the birds as you identify them. And always be prepared for that migrant that may be passing through on its way to greener pastures. 

Velvet-purple Coronet (Boissonneaua Jardini)
Velvet-purple Coronet (Boissonneaua Jardini) | Source

Step 9 - Get Advice

Reading books and bird guides are great but there is nothing that provides more pertinent information than someone who has been there. Talk with people who have traveled to your target destination. They can furnish information covering everything from birding locations to the best places for lodging and dining. Seek out members of a bird club near you who may have visited the same area. There are also many forums and chat rooms on the World Wide Web where people would be happy to help with your questions. Many of these, such as and can even assist in finding you a companion for your adventure. 

Step 10 - Confirm Your Reservations

Booking a tour package takes most of the worry out of traveling to an unfamiliar location, but it is not always the most economical. If you are putting together your own birding itinerary then it is advisable to reserve all accommodations in advance. There is nothing more frightening than to arrive at a foreign locality only to find that a local festival has resulted in every available bed filled with visiting merrymakers. For your peace of mind and a less stressful adventure it is advisable to confirm all flights and lodging before embarking on the trip. 


Whether you are planning the trip of a lifetime or an annual respite from the daily grind, organizing ahead will make for a more enjoyable experience. Taking a little time to assess yourself and your objectives, researching the intended destination and preparing for the adventure can prolong the gratification and prove beneficial in making this a memorable excursion.


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    • ColibriPhoto profile imageAUTHOR


      6 years ago from Quito, Ecuador

      Thanks Nick, I do some guiding and help people travel on a budget. A little preparation can go a long way.

    • nickupton profile image


      6 years ago from Bangkok

      Excellent. I lead birdwatching tours and I will be referring people to this article in order to make my life easier.

    • ColibriPhoto profile imageAUTHOR


      7 years ago from Quito, Ecuador

      Thank you Naturegirl. Common down anytime. I will be here and show you around.

    • naturegirl7 profile image

      Yvonne L. B. 

      7 years ago from South Louisiana

      Your photographs of the birds are outstanding and the advice is great. One of these days I will visit the Rain Forests to see the hummingbirds and other tropical lovelies. I'm putting it on my "Bucket List".

      Fantastic hub!

    • ColibriPhoto profile imageAUTHOR


      7 years ago from Quito, Ecuador

      Thanks Vwriter, appreciate the comments.

    • vwriter profile image


      7 years ago from US

      Great article and tips ColibriPhoto.

    • ColibriPhoto profile imageAUTHOR


      7 years ago from Quito, Ecuador

      Thank you Dexter. Doing a little planning can always make a difference. Fewer headaches and greater enjoyment.

    • Dexter Yarbrough profile image

      Dexter Yarbrough 

      7 years ago from United States

      Planning ahead is so important. Wonderful, useful tips that I will certainly use. Thanks so much for sharing.

    • ColibriPhoto profile imageAUTHOR


      7 years ago from Quito, Ecuador

      Thanks Stephanie. You can apply this to other vacations as well. But people forget to plan ahead and when they get back home they spend their time telling everyone what went wrong. I would rather tell them what went right.

    • StephanieBCrosby profile image

      Stephanie Bradberry 

      7 years ago from New Jersey

      ColibriPhoto, what another wonderful article. I really like this one because it is so practical. So many people can quickly have excitement turn to disappointment and failure because they did not think a hobby required forethought or planning. I will certainly keep your tips in mind if hubby and I want to go some place cool to see birds. Thanks for the advice!


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