Bird watching can be both a relaxing and adventurous hobby to delve into. Enjoying the fresh air, hiking through the sights and sounds of a calm outdoor day, and the tinge of excitement you feel when finally spotting that rare bird you’ve been looking for are all wonderful reasons to get into the activity; but what sort of equipment and skills do you need to start? Thankfully, not much.
The first piece of equipment you’ll need is a good pair of binoculars. You have a lot of options here covering a large price range, so it’s best to do a good amount of research on the pair you’re wanting before you make a purchase. Our binoculars guide showing how to find the best option for you is a great place to start. Some of the cheaper pairs might seem tempting, as they can offer good magnification. But some of the more expensive pairs could last longer, offering long warranties, waterproofing, and strong housing to withstand accidental drops. Depending on how much you plan on bird watching (and what sorts of terrain you plan on exploring) will determine how much you should spend on your binoculars.
You might be wondering why cameras aren’t discussed in details here. That is because while a camera is a great piece of equipment for this hobby, it isn’t for everyone. Not only can they get too bulky, they are also much more expensive and can be difficult to master. If you’re interested in cameras for bird watching, we do encourage that you give it a try. However, just know that it is not necessary.
The next piece of equipment you’ll need is a field guide to teach you exactly what to look for, where to go, and what you’re looking at when you find that strangely colored bird fluttering around in the distance. Like binoculars, there are many options to choose from here, and most of those options range from beginner levels to advanced, depending on how skilled you are in recognizing what to look for. If traveling to a public park, the visitor center could have their own bird watching sheet that will show you the common birds in the area. This is both a cheap and easy option for beginners to utilize, and can help you advance to more in-depth guides once you’ve had some practice spotting from it. Other, more advanced guides can be purchased, and are customized to the bird watcher’s preferences. It’s best to find one covering the area you plan on exploring, and also pay attention to how these guides reference the birds. Some reference them by color, others by shape, and others by the birds’ biology. Color or shape are the best field guides for beginners, until your spotting skills have improved.
Historically, a good set of binoculars and a handy field guide were all you needed to get into bird watching, but with today’s technological advances we have another easy resource to utilize: Smartphone apps. Plenty of field guides today are available as apps. Many apps come with extra options to help you learn more about the birds you’re looking for as well as provide you with valuable information to help you that a book could not, such as audio clips of the bird or videos to help identify their flight patterns. Many apps provide user input to help guide you exactly towards the bird you’re looking for (much like geocaching), and offer helpful tips from others who’ve traveled the same path you’re on. Technology has vastly improved the ease of getting into bird watching, and can be a great resource for beginners.
Regardless of the equipment or skills you bring with you to the outdoors, bird watching–whether they’re mesmerizing birds of prey, or a common backyard robin–can be a fun and relaxing activity to take part in for an afternoon or weekend.