All the Knowledge and Gear You Need to Start Birdwatching
Birdwatchers form a vibrant community of collectors and nature enthusiasts that leaves their most prized collections where they found them—in the wilderness. The activity for minimalists is perfect for people who want to experience nature without disturbing it.
In this post, we’ll go over the best birdwatching binoculars, gear, and knowledge you’ll need to kickstart a new hobby. The great news: birding is quite simple. With just a couple of free apps and a single pair of binoculars, you can start learning the basics and getting invested.
History of Birdwatching
For a long time, birds were interesting to humans because they had potential as food. Most histories of modern birdwatching trace the activity back to the 18th century, when a group of observers became interested in the study of birds as a science. Early birdwatching was about collecting artefacts from birds including eggs, feathers and even entire birds. Collectors enjoyed obtaining specimens from different birds around the world.
In the 19th century people became more interested in protecting birds, and bird watching moved from collection to observation. In the United States, the Audubon Society was established to protect birds from the feather trade.
The idea of bird watching first appeared in the early 20th century. Edmund Selous wrote a book with the title “Bird Watching,” which drew on earlier work about looking at birds through “opera glass.” Ever since, birding has increased in popularity as a pastime. Interestingly enough, the minimalist hobby experienced a new wave of popularity through use of the internet. The world wide web lent itself well to connecting disparate bird fans and forming a more vibrant community.
What is Birdwatching?
Okay, so birdwatching has been around as a hobby since people realized that it would be better to watch birds instead of collecting them. But what is birdwatching?
Birdwatching, also known merely as birding, is both an observational sport and a form of citizen science. Most birdwatchers keep logs of the birds that they have observed, or possibly a log of a specific location and all the birds that they’ve seen in that location. Birdwatchers usually enjoy activities like:
- Making notes about birds
- Learning about bird life and anatomy
- Determining the size and shape of birds
- Learning about variations between different species of birds
Each birder approaches the activity differently. You might find a spot that is near your house and use it as a weekend activity; or, you might travel your state attempting to collect all of the known birds that exist in the area.
Observation and Science
Some birders really enjoy the process of picking a single location to observe, year after year. For instance, suppose you spent a decade going to a local lake to observe birds. If you kept careful notes, you might be able to make some meaningful observations about the ecosystem and how it changes over time. Some birders pride themselves in their ability to understand a particular location.
Learning the Catalogue
Other birders really enjoy the challenge of being able to quickly identify a wide variety of birds. When you start birding, you generally have to rely on in-the-moment research. Since you'll only be able to identify a few species, you might have trouble spotting rare and unique birds at a distance.
Birding requires a number of “skills,” but one of the main ones is identification. An amateur may have to look up everything they see, while an expert can spot and identify birds without having to use their guide. Experts also enjoy finding signs of birds, like nests or songs, which can give away the types and locations of birds in the area. Bird watching isn’t always about seeing the bird first! Sometimes you'll have to source clues that can lead you to a bird.
Depending on how serious the birder is, they may also participate in a variety of challenges. If you’re the competitive type, there are plenty of online communities that have local and national birding challenges for you to participate in.
Birdwatcher Starter Gear
Best Birdwatching Binoculars
What are the best birdwatching binoculars? Binoculars, or field glasses, are the primary tool that bird watchers use to spot their specimens. When you’re looking for the perfect pair, keep in mind that you’re not actually looking for the “strongest” binoculars that you can find. Sometimes more magnification is actually a hindrance in chasing down birds.
For your basic best birdwatching binoculars, the Nature DX 10x42 Binoculars are ideal as a starter set. They aren’t too pricey, and they are definitely built for the sport of birdwatching. Great light imaging, up to 10x magnification, and lightweight. They are easy to carry and maneuver without losing focus on your subject. Additionally, they’re optimized for simplicity which is great for beginners.
Birders really love the nature DX because of the sharp image. It’s easier to make decisions and follow movement!
For long distances, we recommend the Celestron SkyMaster 15x Zoom Binoculars. Powerful enough to see into the stars, they aren’t really useful for close quarters bird watching; but, they can help you spot birds at a great distance if you’re patient and careful. Some birdwatchers enjoy moving about more, while others will post up and patiently scan the field. If you want to be the kind that posts up, the Celestron SkyMasters are ideal.
Birdwatching Spotting Scope
Bird watching requires a lot of patience, and the muscle strength to stay still and move quietly in tight spaces. Spotting scopes use a tripod and the perfect angle to prevent your neck from getting bent out of shape while you’re looking for birds.
The Trailseeker 80-40 Degree Spotting Scope is a great beginner's scope, because it’s fully armored and filled with Nitrogen for maximum durability. Even if you bang it around while hiking or moving through nature, it will remain in great shape. Plus there’s a dual focus mechanism which allows you to quickly bring your subject into focus without losing your place. The models are great for low light, meaning you’ll get more out of each bird watching experience. It also includes a sunshade and rotating tripod for setting up shop.
Field Guide: Go for the Apps
A field guide is absolutely necessary to becoming a great birder. There was a time where you would have to splurge on a travel guide and picture books to get your sightings identified. But now, bird watching apps make it easy to identify birds on the move. You don’t have to carry any paper books with you if you don’t want to!
For example, the Audubon Bird Guide: North America app is widely recognized to be the gold standard in birding apps. It is totally free and helps you quickly locate and identify over 800 different species of birds.
Bird books are cool, but many modern birders opt for the tech-forward route instead. We wouldn’t blame you for purchasing a library shelf full of awesome birding books, but your phone could do the job by storing just a few apps as well.
Birdwatching is a sport, and like any sport there’s certain attire that helps you perform at a high level. You may not need to splurge for anything special, but consider snagging a quality backpack, shoes that are comfortable with good grip, and clothing that keeps you temperature-comfortable. Hydration and heat are two key vitals to watch while birding, so make sure you’ve got plenty of water and food!