All you need to get started with birding is a field guide or a trusted app to help you identify the birds you see. A good pair of binoculars or a spotting scope will be helpful too, the National Park Service advises. Good guides for beginning birders organize birds by color, making it easier to narrow down the bird you saw. Several apps and websites also allow users to search for birds by color as well as size, location and where the bird was seen, such as in a tree, on the ground or at the water's edge.
It's a good idea to page through your guide before heading out on your first birding adventure, said Bob Bryerton, a program coordinator at the Forest Preserve District's Plum Creek Nature Center.
"It helps if you can look through it a few times before you go out, so you can familiarize yourself with birds a bit," he said. "Most people know robins, cardinals, blue jays and sparrows already, but there are hundreds of birds out there that can show up in front of you."
Having a solid foundation of 10 birds is also helpful.
"If you can learn 10 species for sure, then at least you will know when something outside of those 10 shows up," he said, adding that each birding trip will help you build a larger foundation.
While binoculars aren't essential for birding, especially if you're starting by observing the birds in your own yard, they are helpful to have.
"Having binoculars will help you see birds from farther away and allow you to see the colors, patterns and marks on the bird that will help you identify it while standing far enough away that the bird does not feel threatened," Bryerton said.
He said you don't have to have a fancy, expensive pair of binoculars to get started. You can use what you have available. If they are an old pair that you have lying around the house, they will work. Use what you have to start. If you get into birding more and later want to find a pair that better suits your needs, check out The Audubon Guide to Binoculars for advice, Bryerton suggested.
If you put a bird feeder or two in your backyard, all you need to start spotting visitors is a window to view them. Be patient if you don't have any visitors right away; it can take a few days for birds to find a new feeder, according to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology.
When starting out IDing birds, the National Audubon Society recommends considering four different factors in determining what birds you are seeing:
- First, consider the bird's size and shape.
- Next, look at the color.
- Then, observe and take note of its behavior.
- Finally, consider the type of habitat it is in.
- Once you've noted all these factors, you can refer to your field guide or app to narrow down the possibilities.
If you're birding beyond your own backyard, location is key. The National Park Service suggests focusing on areas where birds have access to both water and food, whether it be feeders or natural sources. If you can find a place where two habitat areas meet — such as a forest edge along a meadow or where a stream flows into a river — that may increase your likelihood of seeing many species in one trip.