Article and photo by: Evan Glynn
Birding is a fantastic hobby than can be done from essentially any location on the globe. No sophisticated equipment is required other than one’s own senses. It doesn’t need to be done on a nature trial, or at a tropical ecotourism destination. One can simply sit and take in the surrounding nature.
Birding is whatever you would like it to be. As long as you’re in nature and observing the avifauna, you’re birding. You can watch the feeders for a few minutes, or spend your entire life making lists of species and numbers seen for all counties of all states. You can listen to and appreciate the most simple bird song, or you can record and analyze each phrase of each vocalization in great detail. You can observe a Herring Gull eating trash at the beach, our watch Greater Prairie-Chickens display on their lek. You can sit on a chair in your yard, or travel to tropical destinations across the globe to observe one specific species. From the most basic to the most extreme observation, all are examples of birding, and all can be thrilling.
While it is completely true that no equipment is needed at all, there are a few essential tools that come in handy and can make birding more interactive.
Binoculars are the most essential tool for any birder. They allow for closer viewing of birds at a distance, and create more opportunities to view and identify birds one may otherwise be able to see. A decent pair of binoculars can cost anywhere from a few hundred to a few thousand dollars. Generally, you get what you pay for. Learning how to use binoculars can be challenging at first. It’s common to view the bird with your eyes, then lose sight of the bird once binoculars are pulled up to the eyes. This is a skill that takes time and practice. Experience and time in the field will allow this motion without losing sight of a bird to become second nature. There are numerous types of binoculars, and selecting the right pair may seem overwhelming. The team at Audubon have put together a fantastic resource for selecting binoculars for all budgets: https://www.audubon.org/gear/binocular-guide
A field guide will allow for more detailed identification of birds observed. Field guides come in numerous formats and can cover a large range, like the entire US, or can state-specific. Some field guides use photos, while others use artists’ drawings. The decision of which field guide to use is completely up to personal preference. My personal preference is a field guide that covers the entire ABA area (US (excluding Hawaii) with Canada) and uses an artist’s drawing of each bird. While a guide that covers a larger area will be larger in size, the added benefit of reading about more species is well worth it. However, small pamphlets showing birds around the immediate area are helpful when traveling light or hiking. I also prefer an artist’s interpretation of birds over photographs as photos can show distorted colors, and photos may not show all possible details or variations in plumage.
A notebook can be used for jotting down quick observations about a bird only briefly seen. Sometimes, a quick sketch with some descriptive terms will allow you to identify a bird later if you weren’t able to immediately confirm an ID in the field. Some notebooks are waterproof which will allow for notes and sketches in any weather.
There are additional essential tools for birding, like comfortable footwear, outdoor clothing, useful apps and recordings of bird songs, and spotting scopes. But these major essentials should allow for any novice birder to take the next step!