Essentials of Beginning Birdwatching
birdwatching equipment

Essentials of Beginning Birdwatching

Birdwatching is a relaxing pastime or recreational activity that involves observing and identifying bird species. It is also a challenging hobby whose popularity is constantly expanding. It can be awe-inspiring and somewhat mesmerizing and involve family members of all ages. Everyone can pick their own favorite species or vocals from different birds.

The hunt to locate, identify, watch, and hear or record the vocal of a species is a captivating endeavor. Just think! Birds have been on our planet since the age of the dinosaurs. Their spectacular range of colors, sizes, vocals, and beauty of flight have evolved for millions of years! Tell the kids that they are going out to watch dinosaurs, and see the curiosity begin!

Birdwatching can be done as a simple leisure pursuit from your own kitchen table while watching a variety of birds at your backyard bird feeder or in growing increments of complexity in ornithology (the science of birds). In the simplest forms, the beginner needs only their eyes and ears to enjoy birdwatching. This back to nature hobby often evolves into the enthusiast wanting to identify specific birds by spotting them or hearing their songs.

Becoming involved in birdwatching has many benefits. It is a healthy venture that connects people back to nature. People can watch birds almost anywhere. From backyards, to exotic aviaries, to local parks, or far-off locations, birdwatching is plain fun! The very nature of the hobby tends to calm stress; plus, it gets you up and moving.

Birdwatchers often explore new areas and make new birdwatching friends in the field or in groups online or even in local societies. Whether a solitary quest or a social venture, the mental and physical benefits abound. Avid birdwatchers tend to become involved in wildlife conservation and even habitat reestablishment. Plus, birdwatching can be done year-round. It can be surprising and challenging.

For sure, birdwatching is a hobby that will never be dull. The allure of following migration cycles and the vast number of birds that exist makes this an exciting and ever-changing hobby. “Watchers” learn that patience is a necessary trait, but the benefits are so worth it when the “ah-ha” moment finally arrives!

Equipment Essentials for the Newbie Birdwatchers:

1. Backpack

Birdwatchers will benefit from a comfortable backpack that allows hands-free viewing while having the capacity to stow everything you need on your birdwatching adventure. When packing, remember that your destination and planned time in the field sets the requirements for what you need to put in your backpack. You will want to include items such as basic first aid supplies including ointment and band aids, sunscreen, bug spray, camera, lens cleaning cloths, a head lamp, a drink, and a snack.

The Osprey Daylite Plus pack is a great beginners’ choice. This backpack is constructed of sturdy material that can survive the outdoors.

2. Binoculars

Binoculars are an essential tool for new and old birdwatching enthusiasts. The focal point of the hobby is viewing the bird, without disturbing it, and the better the binocular, the better the experience.

The Nikon Monarch 7 is one of the best birding binoculars on the market. It has quality glass with a waterproof and fog-proof construction that makes them perfect for the job. The basic construction is durable, but it also has the ability to change the magnification and viewing diameter. This allows you to enjoy your subject and keep it in view.

Another recommended set of binoculars for beginning or even young birdwatchers is the Leupold BX-1 Yosemite. These economical binoculars are compact and adjust easily to fit most people and sport 8X magnification with a good field of view. They are constructed for clarity and precision with waterproofing and a sturdy armor coating on the exterior.

If you need something for longer ranges, make sure to check out our reviews of the best spotting scopes for birding.

3. Binocular Harness

Binocular harnesses are highly suggested. The harnesses allow you to carry your binoculars in comfort. Different models offer different advantages from the super basic to enclosed pounces. A decent binocular harness is the Tenzing TZ OSS15. The harness is made from a sturdy nylon fabric with an adjustable padded shoulder strap. Additionally, the straps have elastic for comfort.

4. Waterproof Notebook and Pen

Being able to jot down your notes and observations while birdwatching is essential. Keeping a waterproof notebook with a handy pencil or waterproof pen will provide you a lightweight invaluable tool. An inexpensive example is the Rite in the Rain all-weather side-spiral notebook (4 5/8” X 7”) accompanied by a standard #2 Ticonderoga pencil or an all-weather pen such as the Rite in the Rain weatherproof metal pen.

This notebook comes in a variety of colors and contains 64 pages. It is water repellent and will resist such things as sweat, mud, and spills. It has a side wire binding and will retain its shape when stowed away in your backpack.

5. Field Guide

Part of the enjoyment of birdwatching is being able to identify your subject. A suggested hard copy field guide is National Geographic’s Field Guide to the Birds of North America. It comes in an easy-to-carry pocket size as well.

This is a solid reference which contains colorful illustrations, detailed descriptions, and basic facts on all North American birds as well as those found approximately 200 miles off the coast. This field guide also acts as a basic birding source for some species located in Central America and Mexico. Simply, it is a must-have birding resource!

6. Apps

Birdwatching apps are the current trend for field birding enthusiasts. They provide much of the same information as traditional field guides. There are numerous apps to pick from. A superior and always current selection is the Audubon Birds Guide App. Just think, it’s one less thing to put in your backpack!

The Audubon Birds Guide App is constantly updated and is filled with incredible bird images and descriptions on over 760 species with a bird song file containing over 2300+ songs. The language is clear and concise, which eases the identification process. Plus, you can set search features to enable one to quickly and easily identify birds by attributes such as location, patterns, songs, images, time of year and patterns.

Another essential tool for beginner birdwatchers is the Song Sleuth App which is a bird song identification app that integrates algorithms to assist you in recognizing birds by their calls. This app contains files on over 200 common North American birds.

You enter your geographic location and the app will list species possibilities. When in range of your target bird, simply aim or point the microphone. Once you have recorded a sound clip, the app provides an identification of the species with detailed information. So cool!

7. Smart Phones

Don’t leave home without it! Seriously, your smart phone is one of the most essentials tools you’ll need for birdwatching. In reality, it’s the mini-computer you take with you. Using your smart phone gives you access to a vast variety of indispensable birdwatching tools such as apps, gives you internet access, and doubles as a quality camera and recording device. The picture quality can be amazing! You can also share your discoveries with friends.

8. Camera

The Canon EOS Rebel T5 is a super camera for birdwatchers. It is easy to use and captures images with clarity, fantastic color, and precision. It has a substantial 3.0-inch LCD screen for live viewing and recording. You will be able to capture your birdwatching subjects for sharing and documenting your adventures.

9. Birding Associations

One of the key elements and essentials tools needed in this hobby is information and education. Birdwatching associations provide a sharing community filled with educational opportunities, gear recommendations, and identification tips. There are numerous national, regional, and local birding groups.

A fantastic starting point for information and education is the National Audubon Society. It is a worldwide organization that advocates for conservation and environmental protection for birds. It has helpful information on local organizations and basic birding education.

10. Websites

Websites on birds and birding are just a Google search away. The American Birding Association, also known as the ABA, is a fantastic tool for beginner birdwatchers. It strives to provide information for the amateur and experienced birder by providing resources in a lively format such as a blog, a podcast, news alerts for rare bird sightings, bird finding guides, basic news, informational publications and identification facts. Online membership is available as well.

Newbie birdwatchers will also find The Cornell Lab of Ornithology website to be an essential tool. This website offers a terrific amount of information about birds and really aims at inspiring lifelong learning about them. The resources abound with ID apps, bird cams, nest watch monitors, and also offers opportunities for birdwatchers to learn from the beginning stages to the advanced stages of birdwatching. You will find inspiration for birdwatching on this website.


Remember that once a birdwatcher; always a birdwatcher! Whether watching birds at a feeder in your own yard or while venturing to see puffins nesting on the rocky cliffs of Iceland, birdwatching can be addictive. Birding, like any enjoyable hobby or activity, can relax us, provide knowledge or nature, insight into our world and often humor, which is always good for the soul. So, it’s time to get yourself in motion. Get off the couch, gather your birdwatching essentials, and get moving!