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You probably hear birds every day, but can you tell one bird song from the next? Birdwatching, or birding, is an increasingly popular hobby in many parts of the world. Venturing out to look for and listen to various species of birds in your locality can be both enriching and relaxing. All you need is a pair of binoculars, a field guide, and a willingness to observe.
- Get a pair of binoculars. A pair with reasonable magnification (e.g. 7x or 8x) and lighter weight often works better in cluttered environments like forest or woodland. Higher magnification (10x or 12x; and heavier weight) glasses are better for open country and wetland birding; but some people will find them more difficult to hand hold and therefore suffer a more shaky image.
- Choose between porro prisms or roof prisms. Most serious birders use top range roof prisms, such as the Swarovski EL, Leica Ultravid or Zeiss Victory FL range; the top of the range models use this design as it is more compact and more comfortable to use. Inexpensive binoculars are generally porro prism; inexpensive roof prisms (especially those without phase coating) are generally to be avoided.
- Also take into consideration the binocular strap. When you go into the field, you will be wearing a dead weight on your neck for hours at a time, so make sure the strap is wide and comfortable. Some birders use a harness that distributes weight to the shoulders and back instead of to the neck.
- Calibrate your binoculars before you go birding.
- Get a field guide. Some people prefer the guides with illustrations because photographs can lead to confusion due to poor lighting, flash, posture, etc. Get into the habit of studying the birds' habits, calls, and field marks before birding. This way, you will be ready to identify a particular bird the instant you see it.
- Find other bird watchers. If you really enjoy bird watching, search online for birding groups and chapters near you. Many lead bird walks that you can attend. Contact local universities or parks to find out whether classes or walks are being offered. The more sets of eyes and ears there are, the more birds you'll find, especially if you go with bird watchers who are more experienced than you are.
- Start bird watching in the morning, when birds are searching for food, and listen. Most of the time, you will be surrounded by bird calls and songs, but will not have a single bird in sight. Look for movement in trees, and bring your binoculars to your eyes. Don't try to find the bird through your binoculars.
- If you can't go to the birds, bring the birds to you. Putting up bird feeders and keeping them filled with fresh bird food is an effective way to attract birds to your own yard. Do some reading to determine which type of feeds will attract any birds you are particularly interested in observing. Sunflower seeds will attract quite a few varieties and might be nice to start with. You can also install a bird fountain. Most things that can hold shallow water will do! Running or dripping water especially interests birds.
- Dress appropriately, as you would for hiking. Colours that blend in to the surrounding landscape will help to stop birds from avoiding your presence.
- Proceed quietly. Loud talking or laughing can cause birds to flee before you even get close.
- Identify the bird you've spotted in your field guide. You will find that birds stick to certain ranges---range maps will be shown in your field guide. Do not focus on color as this alone can lead to misidentifications. Focus on shape, size, markings, posture, behavior, etc.
- If you have time, and if you're interested in having a visual record, take a picture of the bird. This can be difficult when you're starting out, especially since you'll need to use a camera on a tripod in conjunction with a telescope or binoculars (a practice known as digiscoping) to get the shot.
- To find more and different birds, you may wish to plan trips to different habitats: forests, mudflats, lakes, rivers, fields/meadows. Eventually, you may wish to plan travel even further to places which will host birds you are not likely to see near your home.
- Create your "life list". This is a list of every species of bird you have seen. Eventually, you might progress to creating various other lists: yard lists, month lists, year lists, state lists, etc. and you might start "twitching" (UK) or "chasing" (US)--that is, traveling so you can catch sight of a rare bird to add to your list. Write down the bird species, gender (if you can tell), location and date.
- Respect the birds. Birdwatching etiquette and ethics are important in making sure that as birding becomes more popular, the birds' habitats are not disturbed. Some guidelines suggested by the American Birding Association include:
- Don't stress the birds with recordings or artificial lighting.
- Don't get too close to nests, nesting colonies, roosts, display areas, and important feeding sites; your presence may interfere with birds' activities.
- Respect private property.
- Avoid advertising the presence of a rare bird if it may result in habitat disturbance.
- Don't attract birds to areas where they are in danger, such as if your cat plans on eating them for lunch.
- In temperate zones, the best time to go birding is in the spring and fall when birds are migrating.
- Once you become more experienced, consider taking part in a bird census to help scientists learn more about bird populations and migration.
- During migration, do not "pish", or lure birds by making noises that mimic the noises that small birds make when they "mob", or harass, predators. This stresses the already-weakened bird, and may contribute to its death.
Things You'll Need
- Field guide
- Notebook and pen to record your sightings and notes
- Suitable clothing (for seasonal weather conditions)
- Rubber boots (you might need to head down a creek)
Sources and Citations
- ? http://www.birds.cornell.edu/AllAboutBirds/birding123/identify/index_html
- ? http://www.americanbirding.org/abaethics.htm
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