The only tools you need to start your birding adventure are your own ears and eyes. However, there are also many different types of equipment and gear that you may want to learn to use. Some are simple and easy to acquire and use : a journal, for instance, to record your bird sightings.
Focus on Birds
Binoculars, spotting scopes and tripods can help you get a better look at a bird. Be sure to choose the right one for you and learn how to use it. Funny as it may sound, one of the frustrations that beginning birders often face is learning how to use their binoculars.
Spotting scopes, while heavier and more cumbersome than binoculars, can help zoom in to see unique bird characteristics from farther away. This allows more space between you and your subject : which makes it less intimidating for wildlife and therefore less destructive. A good tripod is also important to keep your scope steady.
By the Book (or App)
A good bird identification guide is also helpful. Choosing a guide can be a challenge – which may explain why so many advanced birders have several guides!
Guides may cover an entire country or just a specific region, state or natural area. Make sure that your guide covers the location(s) where you want to watch birds. Some guides focus on specific groups of birds (e.g., waterfowl or warblers). Learn how birds are arranged in your guide. If you are just learning to identify birds, you may want a book that is arranged by bird color.
Ask yourself if you want photographs or drawings or a guide that combines the two. Will you bring your book out to the field with you? If it is big and heavy, will you actually carry it with you or leave it at home?
Based on your preferences, you should choose the bird guide or guides that work best for you. Some of the most popular bird guides include the Sibley, Peterson and National Geographic guides. There are also a number of online bird identification guides that can be invaluable in the field or at home. You may also want to add an online bird identification guide, such as the Merlin Bird ID App, to your phone or other device.
Familiarize yourself with bird morphology (basic form and structure) and key identification terms. Understand the key to the range maps and seasons used in your guide. Using a checklist, to your phone or other device.
Calls of the Wild
Birds call and sing for a variety of reasons: to attract a mate, warn about possible danger, because their territory is being invaded or threatened. A baby bird may be begging for food.
You may use electronic callers and pre-recorded bird calls to help identify birds or call them in for a closer look. There are very specific things to be aware of if you use recordings.
Do not use bird calls during breeding season. Be careful not to agitate birds to the point that they are forced to leave the area. Playing recordings too loudly or too often can intimidate a resident bird. Playing recordings of a predator can create panic in a smaller prey bird, forcing it to spend energy hiding from what it thinks is an enemy.
Be Ethical and Safe
Please enjoy birds from a distance and respect their need for space – remember, you are in their territory.
All birders should understand the guidelines of ethical and polite birdwatching.
Not only do you need to respect the birds, but you need to respect others as well. As you are birding do you respect private property rights? If you are driving while birding, do you use safe pull-offs and parking areas rather than stopping suddenly in the middle of a busy road? Make sure your birding experience is safe and comfortable.
Be sure to dress appropriately when you go bird watching. Dress for the weather and the type of habitat you may encounter. Be aware of other things you may come across as you are birdwatching – plants with stickers, biting insects, other recreationists.
Sunscreen, a hat, insect repellent, water, snacks, and comfortable, sturdy shoes are recommended. While you may want to go birding alone in an out of the way place, you should let someone know where you are going and have a backup plan in case you are delayed or lost. Do you have a map of the area, information on tides and forecasted weather?
Current technology gives us access to many different birding tools to enjoy birds and improve our understanding of them. Use cameras, mp3 players, computer programs and cell phone apps to get and record birding information. Websites help us track our life lists, find hotspots, and see what rare birds might be in an area.
Get Involved in Bird Conservation
You can contribute to bird conservation in many small but significant ways. If you enjoy bird watching, think about how you can “give back” and earn others appreciation for birds.
Do you make sure that you leave no trace except your footprints? Do you share your hobby and mentor other birders? Do you help conserve and provide quality habitat for your feathered friends? Do you provide bird friendly landscaping and minimize your use of pesticides? Anyone can buy Migratory Bird Conservation Stamps which provide habitat for birds and all wetland dependent species. Share your bird sightingss with others. Join your local or national birding and conservation groups to help conserve special places in your community such as parks and preserves.
Most important of all, be an ethical birder and take action on behalf of birds and bird conservation, so that future generations will be able to share in the joy of bird watching. Enjoy birding!
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