How To Go Bird Watching
If you’d like to start bird watching, or if you don’t know how to go about starting to bird watch, don’t worry. We have all you need to know about beginning to bird watch here in this article. From the equipment you’ll need to the actions you’ll need to adopt. Firstly you probably already are a bird watcher, you just haven’t realised it yet.
If when you’re out you notice various birds flying or feeding or whatever, then you’re a bird watcher. By its definition a bird watcher is someone that watches birds. There are a few useful techniques to help you spot more birds, so let’s start there.
Bird Watching Techniques
There are a few tips and hints that will help you get the most enjoyment from bird watching. That’s because if you follow these tips, you’ll see more birds.
Birds are nervous creatures and with good reason. They wouldn’t survive for very long if they weren’t cautious as there are so many predators after an easy meal. What this means to us bird watchers is we need to be quiet if we want to see any birds that aren’t flying away.
By remaining quiet you have a far better chance of getting closer to the birds without spooking them. If you’re in a group you’ll need to keep a handle on your excitement, it’s natural when you spot a bird you’ve not seen before to want to shout out and point it out. However, if you do get too excited you’ll not only scare off any birds, you’ll also potentially lose your bird watching friends.
It’s not only noises that spook the birds, sudden movements will scare them away too. When bird watching you need to remain as still as is humanly possible for as long as possible. If you do want to get closer to the bird, you need to move very slowly, almost stalking it. Any sudden movement and the bird will be gone.
Something as innocent as jerking your binoculars up to your eyes could result in the bird flying away. If you do find yourself close to a bird, you need to be as still as possible with no sudden movements at all.
If there are no birds visible at the site you planned on watching them from, you have two options. You can either get into a comfortable position and wait, or move off to another site. But remember just because you can’t see the birds, doesn’t mean they’re not there.
If you do decide to move off somewhere else there’s a good chance you could spook any unseen birds which is of course counterproductive.
Be Aware Of The Position Of The Sun
If it’s at all possible, position yourself with the sun at your back. This is because if the birds are between you and the sun they will lose most if not all of their colours. Which means you’ll be trying to identify all black shadow images of birds.
With the sun behind you, the birds will be visible in full colour. This makes it far easier to identify them. Even bright colourful birds like bluetits look like dark shadows when positioned between you and the sun.
Blend In To The Surroundings
It is said that many birds have poor vision,(having seen some birds hunting we find that difficult to comprehend) but they recognise bright colours. Birds apparently see white as the colour of danger so definitely don’t wear white when bird watching. Better still, try blending in by wearing dark, muted colours.
Greens, blacks, browns, even camouflage, all are good for not standing out in the eyes of the birds. The less chance a bird has of spotting you, the more chance you have of spotting the bird.
Many bird watchers spend their time observing the flock of common birds right in front of them and miss seeing the rare species at the edge of the habitat. By keeping your wits about you and constantly checking the various habitats at that location you might just see more than you bargained for.
Check The Flock
Having just told you to keep looking around, we don’t mean you to ignore the flock of birds right in front of you. You might assume it’s just twenty or so hedge sparrows (Dunnocks) but among them there might be a robin, or a blackbird. Or who knows what else?
Connect With Other Bird Watchers
There are plenty of bird watching groups all over the British Isles, and finding one near you is as easy as a quick search online. Many social media platforms have bird watching groups which is a good place to start. You could also consider joining the RSPB or the BTO, where you’ll find many hints and tips on the best locations for spotting different species of birds in your area.
Essential Bird Watching Equipment
The reality is, that the only really essential equipment is your eyes, wits, patience and the time needed to spend bird watching. However, there are some pieces of kit that will make bird watching easier, more fun and make you more comfortable. They include;
- Bird Identification Book
- Field Guide
- Notepad & Pen
- Spotting Scope
- Waterproof Clothing
- Sturdy Shoes Or Walking Boots
- Flask With A Hot Drink
We’ve listed these in the order of most importance as we see them.
Binoculars have to be at the top of the list because you’ll see far more birds at the distance binoculars allow you to be situated than with the naked eye. A decent pair of binoculars will cost you anywhere between £100.00 to £350.00 but they will last you a lifetime as long as you look after them.
Go for a pair with between 7x and 10x magnification, no more than 10x as any binoculars with a magnification greater than 10x will need a support to prevent blurred images due to the natural physiology of the human body. We recommend a magnification of 8x to be more than sufficient for bird watching. With an objective lens diameter of between 30 to 50mm.
So a pair of binoculars with the following numbers will be perfect for bird watching;
Bird Identification Book
You can pick up a decent bird identification book online at any number of marketplace sites. If money is tight go for a second hand book as the offers and advertisements might be out of date, but the information about birds will be relevant. Go for one with full colour pictures and as much information as possible on habitat etc.
These tend to be county specific, and give lots of information on birds spotted within that county and likely sites to spot them. Again online is a great place to find field guides suitable for bird watching.
Notepad & Pen
Try to record every species of bird you see and apply the following descriptive aids;
- What area was the bird in?
- What was the bird’s size?
- Was it on its own, or in a group?
- How was the size compared to others in that group?
- What distinguishing features did it have? (markings, colouring, plumage, beak, claws etc)
- What was it doing? (eating, preening, drinking, bathing, perching, etc)
- If it was eating, What was it eating?
- What was its song like?
- What time was it when you saw it?
If you can sketch, it would be great to make a quick sketch for identification purposes.
There are bird watchers that like to back up any sightings with photographic proof, some make albums of particular species including the various locations they spotted the birds. This is not a necessary piece of kit for bird watching, and unless you have a decent zoom lens or are into digiscoping, you’re unlikely to get many good photo opportunities.
A spotting scope allows you to get close-up views of birds from afar, which means there’s less chance of spooking them. But spotting scopes usually need to be supported by a tripod or similar which means you will have less mobility if using a scope. If getting photos of birds is your goal then using a spotting scope in conjunction with a DSLR camera, smartphone or point and shoot camera (digiscoping) will give you a better chance of good, clear photos.
There’s a strong possibility of getting rained on when bird watching, especially in the UK. So investing in a waterproof coat and over trousers might be wise although not absolutely necessary.
Walking Boots Or Sturdy Shoes
Most of us own a sturdy pair of walking boots or shoes and it makes sense to wear them whilst bird watching. You could be walking over some pretty rough terrain getting to where the birds hang out. Rocks, mud, wet grass, you name it, and you’ll probably have to walk through it at some point.
If you start taking some or all of the equipment we’ve suggested so far, you’ll likely need to have a comfortable way to transport it all. A backpack spreads the weight across your shoulders and back making it easier to carry and it keeps your hands free.
Hot Drink & Food
Although we’ve placed these items at the bottom of our list, they might be higher up on yours. Especially when you’re out in the cold and wet for a couple of hours. Not essential to watch the birds but definitely handy to have.
What Time Should You Go Bird Watching?
You can go bird watching at any time of day but birds are most active during the early morning and late evening. Early daylight hours finds most birds at their most active because they need to find food and water every day. As the day wears on, and once they are fed and watered they become less active unless it’s breeding time.
There are active birds at all seasons of the year but there are greater numbers during the Spring and Autumn. This is due to migratory birds with many coming to our country and just as many travelling elsewhere. During Spring birds are more active due to mating, nesting and teaching the fledgelings to fly, hunt and survive.
Where Should You Go To Watch Birds?
The beauty of bird watching is you don’t need to go anywhere. There are many active birds in cities, towns, villages and in our parks and gardens. Of course, there are dedicated nature reserves for wildlife, birds included, but you will often just have to remain still, calm and patient in your own backyard to see plenty of birds.
If you live in a built up area or don’t have a garden, go to a local park, riverbank, lakeside, common land, estuary, coastal path, beach, waste land or anywhere that nature is encroaching on urban life. You will find birds in any or all of these locations.
How Can You Encourage More Birds To Your Garden?
If you want to get more birds to visit your garden you need to give them something they need. Food, water and shelter are the three essentials for birds survival and with a little bit of thought and effort it’s within the capabilities of most people to provide all three.
Food For Birds
Do some research on which food stuff particular birds prefer and start putting this out in your garden. We have great success with mealworms and suet based foods for attracting starlings, sparrows, pigeons, doves, robins, blackbirds and the occasional bluetit. Many people feed birds but what is often neglected is a supply of fresh, clean water which birds need to drink and more importantly to clean their feathers.
Water For Birds
If you do invest in a birdbath be sure to place in a safe place where cats can’t creep up on the birds. Be sure to change the water regularly to ensure a clean supply for the many birds that will flock to your birdbath. In Winter, never use salt or antifreeze to defrost any water in the birdbath, just pour some warm water onto the ice and you’ll find this defrosts it quite quickly.
Shelter For Birds
Shelter can be anything from bird boxes to dense growing plants like ivy. Add some seed and berry producing plants and some that attract insects and you’ll notice more and more birds will start to visit your garden. Once you start feeding the birds and/or providing them with water, it’s important to continue with it as birds soon become dependent on it and will even nest close by to be near a steady supply of food and fresh water.
What Do You Need To Go Bird Watching?
There are three main things you need to go bird watching, they are; patience, calmness and quiet. Other than that a good pair of binoculars and a notepad and pen and be watchful, that slight movement right at the edge of your vision could be the most pretty bird you’ve ever seen, having been misdirected by a storm out at sea.
Frequently Asked Questions
You can use your old binoculars for bird watching, it’s best to use what you already have and if you find they are not quite good enough once you’ve been bird watching for a while, you can always upgrade.
The beauty of bird watching is you don’t need to learn anything to be a bird watcher. Just start watching birds and you’ll soon learn plenty.
Absolutely, your backyard is the perfect place to start bird watching.
The best way to find birds while birding is to think the way a bird thinks. Look in the habitats birds hang out in, bushes, woodland, treetops, powerlines, fence posts, anywhere you would normally see birds.