Birding is one of those hobbies that will truly bring you closer to nature. Watching and studying birds is educational, enlightening, and really opens your eyes to what is going on in your local ecosystem.
It can be a bit intimidating for some people. They think you need extensive knowledge of ornithology (the study of birds) to truly call yourself a birder, or that you have to become some kind of extreme naturalist to be any good at the hobby.
Many people have the idea that to be a real birder you must spend hours in waist-deep swampy waters in search of an elusive species; or that you need to set up a spot in the woods and live there for weeks, eating nothing but granola bars and bark while you await the arrival of a rare bird.
While some bird watchers do opt to put themselves through that type of torture, it is definitely not necessary.
Really, if you want to get into birding, the only requirement is that you have to be interested in birds.
As a beginner getting started in bird watching you might wonder how in the world you are supposed to track down all of these birds. Birds fly all over the place, and finding one species out there in the great wide world of woodlands, fields, marshes, lakes and streams seems impossible. Where do you even begin?
You’ll want to start your new hobby off in a positive way, and there is one simple thing you can do to get things rolling. Instead of searching for birds, make the birds come to you. Put up a bird feeder.
An inexpensive bird feeder stocked with a good basic mix of sunflower seeds, smaller seeds, nuts and fruit bits will attract dozens of local species right to your doorstep. Many birds eat seeds, even those that also spend a good part of their time seeking out insects and other food sources. Once the neighborhood birds learn that your place is a great place to find lunch, you’ll see more and more of them coming around.
Technically, this will make you a backyard birder. You’re going to see mostly songbirds, and mostly abundant species. That’s okay. You’re just getting started, and the first time a new bird arrives on your property it is as exciting to you as when a veteran birder spots a rare species.
If you want to take an extra step, you can also add a water feature to your yard such as a simple bird bath. This can bring in some birds that will not be interested in your seed. When planning what to include in your backyard, keep in mind that a bird that won’t come to your feeder may come to your birdbath and vice versa.
Once the birds start coming around, the best way to figure out what you are looking at is to get a well-written field guide that should be more than just pictures of birds. It should contain in-depth information about specific birds such as their habitat, migration patterns, diet and even a description of their calls and songs. It should have illustrations or photos of the male and female of each species, plus juveniles, first-year plumage and any other seasonal plumage variations.
Next to your field guide, a good pair of binoculars is your most important piece of gear. You don’t have to spend a lot of money, and you don’t need anything fancy. A decent pair of compact binoculars with 10x magnification is certainly good enough to get you started.
As you progress you can move up to better, more powerful optics, but for now there is no reason to bust your budget. You just want something that will allow you to get a better look at the bird in front of you.
Now that you have attracted all types of birds with your feeders and birdbaths you need to be aware that while bird watching is fun and relaxing there is a dark side to it and that is where predators come in.
Birds are attacked and eaten by other birds, including falcons, owls and eagles. Just like the robins and cardinals figure out that your yard is a good place to get a meal, their predators can figure out where to go when they have a craving for song bird. So be vigilant and be ready to shut down the feeding and bathing stations to keep predators from nesting nearby.