Ten Tips for Bird Watching

This blog entry comes to us from Tim Schreckengost, a Field Ornithologist and blogger at Thermal Birding. He has worked throughout the country on several bird research projects and in his free time enjoys birding, blogging, and photography. He's especially interested in migration, radar ornithology, and keeping cats indoors. We look forward to more blog posts from Tim in the future!

1. Binoculars First – Use binoculars first, then take a photograph. Look at the bird, understand what it looks like and how it is acting, and take a mental photograph. Take a photograph after you study the bird. A photograph helps with identification, but details on how the bird is behaving are also necessary for making an accurate identification.

2. Use a Field Guide – Use a field guide when making a tough identification. Field guides are an essential part of a bird watcher’s arsenal. They are packed with vital information such as identification characteristics and clues, range maps, song descriptions, and habitat preference. When in the field, make sure you have some form of field guide handy at all times.

3. Take Notes – Take a notebook when you go bird watching and take notes on what you see and hear. Taking notes is becoming a lost tradition in the bird watching world. As smartphones take over, notebooks are becoming obsolete in the field. I use my smartphone, but always have a notebook in the field in case I have an unusual sighting that deserves notes.

4. Be Respectful – Keep your distance from sensitive species such as owls and other nesting birds. Try to keep your noise level to a minimum to avoid disrupting the birds and fellow bird watchers. Basically, you want to make the least amount of disturbance as possible when observing the natural world.

5. Birds by Habitat – Understanding the habitat you are bird watching in is beneficial to understanding the bird life present. Most birds prefer a special type of habitat. As you recognize the association between birds and their preferred habitat, bird identification will become much easier.

6. Bird Songs – Bird watching by ear is one of the hardest things to conquer as you advance your skills. You can learn bird songs and calls various ways including CDs, smartphone applications, and websites. I find that listening to recordings will help you familiarize yourself with the songs, but you really learn by studying in the field. Try to watch birds sing, as this usually helps stick the image in your mind.

7. Birds by Range – Learn the birds in your area by studying the range of various species. If you learn the distribution of various species, you will pick up on regular or local birds much more quickly.

8. Start Local then Expand – Bird local first, then expand to different areas. As you start bird watching, it is easier to learn the birds in your area rather than trying to conquer an entire state or country.

9. Bird Walks – A local bird club or Audubon Society may be your gateway into the local birding community. Most clubs have monthly or weekly bird walks at local parks or bird watching hotspots and the leaders are generally experts on the local bird life.

10. Get Involved – Get involved with your local bird clubs. Go to meetings, on trips, and attend festivals and talks. The more you explore, the more you learn!

Good birding,

Tim Schreckengost
Field Ornithologist