If you were to search what are the most popular outdoor activities at the moment, you would get an answer that might surprise you. Birding is one of the most popular outdoor activities in the U.S. right now seeing as it ranks first in the top 25, with over 51 million birders in the United States alone.
The activity isn’t complicated at all, and the community spans the entire world which makes finding new spots and friends that much easier. In the guide below we will give you an overview of what this activity encompasses and the best practices and gear that you need to consider when planning your next outing.
What is bird watching and who practices it?
Another thing you might find somewhat surprising is the fact that birding is one of the oldest hobbies, having originated over 40,000 years ago. Humans always had a fascination with the avian species, but it was only during the 20th century, once capable birding binoculars appeared, that this hobby started to become more accessible to the general public.
The unique thing about birding is that it is one of the few hobbies that manages to blend biology, animal welfare, conservation, and fun into one comprehensive package. Every person gets to focus on the part that they find fascinating, and for this reason, this activity will never get dull since you can always discover something new.
There is also the fact that you have complete freedom to take the hobby to the level that you feel comfortable with, or that your budget allows. In that sense, birding is a sport for everyone.
There is no age barrier like with other sports. In fact, having entire families from the youngest to the oldest engaging in birding on the regular is not a rare occurrence. It is a very affordable hobby to get into with only the price of travel and optics being the most significant concern.
The price of the gear also depends greatly on whether you just want to see the birds, in which case you could focus on quality lightweight binoculars for birding, or you want to take pictures of them, in which case you will need a quality camera.
There is no easy answer as to what type of optics you should get, and the birding community is split in terms of who uses optics to see (binoculars, monoculars, or spotting scopes), and who takes pictures with cameras.
The gear you’ll need
As we mentioned above, the gear you will need depends much on the type of bird watcher that you are. If you are an amateur hobbyist and you prefer seeing every detail of the birds with your own eyes, you can get a high-performance birding spotting scope, monocular, or binoculars at a fairly affordable price point nowadays.
Out of the three optics described above, the spotting scope will probably be your most expensive piece of equipment. With that being said, they are necessary if you wish to get those last few clues to help you identify a new species. The good part is just as is the case with binoculars, spotting scopes too are coming down in price while going up in quality.
When observing birds through your optics, it is essential to have a notebook at the ready. When you see a bird that you don’t recognize, you should try to a draw a quick sketch or write a few notes before it flies away. Sketching a bird by hand or writing notes will force you to pay attention to the details you’re describing, allowing them to get imprinted in your memory.
The advantage of a camera is that it can help you identify a bird much easier since even a blurry photo can contain more details than a sketch. Many birders enjoy using a camera more because birds are innately artistic creatures, meaning that even amateur photographers have a chance of taking breathtaking pictures.
Whether you’ve decided on a pair of binoculars or a camera, since you are very likely to encounter uncertain terrain in your adventures, we recommend getting a safety harness that fits around your new equipment. Similarly, a tripod for your spotting scope will help you get a better picture of the birds.
How to find birds
Finding birds can seem a bit intimidating at first, but if there’s one thing everyone that practices this sport needs to be equipped with, that is undoubtedly patience. It can take some time to identify the places where birds are most abundant in your area, but thankfully, with the advent of technology, you can now find apps and tools designed specifically for this purpose.
Of course, if you’re an amateur hobbyist, you can observe the birds, but it is doubtful that you will be able to identify all of them. For this reason, purchasing a field guide from your nearest bookstore is a great first step. The field guide will detail most, if not all the birds that can be found in your area.
As we mentioned above, patience is paramount since you can’t expect for all birds to appear when you want them to since some are shyer than others and the sight of a human might frighten them. With time, you will learn how to act in their presence and spotting new species of birds will become easier and easier.
Some bird watchers find it much more comfortable to bring birds to themselves, and for an amateur hobbyist, this is a great choice. The sight and smell of food enthrall birds, and if you have a garden or a yard, you can use this to your advantage.
Birders like to place bird feeders, houses, baths, and other structures to help lure birds within feet of their own home. You also don’t need to be skilled in woodcraft for this since most of these items are readily available at all of your favorite shops.