Birdwatching: An Instructional Guide

Birdwatching: An Instructional Guide

Does stress, depression, and anxiety sometimes feel like a large weight on your mind? Then, you should look into nature.

A study from the University of Exeter and the University of Queensland report that people who live in residential areas populated by birds, shrubs, and trees - an increased immunity and mental health.

How much of an impact does nature have on our mental and emotional health? Results from the study stated that people were 17% less anxious and stressed while depression levels dropped by 11%.

Based on these results, you should try birdwatching in your local area. Keep reading to see why birdwatching is a trending hobby and how it can provide benefits to your life.

What Is Bird Watching?

Birdwatching is a hobby where people go outside or stay at home to observe birds. Someone who does this is a “birder” or “bird watcher.” While these two words are used interchangeably, but people who spend their time actively seek birds are known as “birders.” “Bird watchers” are people who like viewing birds throughout their day or when walking.

Watching a Bird

Both birders and bird watchers are considered amateur bird observers. Ornithology is the scientific study of birds where advanced observation data is recorded. People who professionally study birds are called ornithologists.

Birdwatching is popular in countries such as the U.S. and Britain. Statistics have shown that over 48 million Americans participate in birdwatching annually. Thus, it’s a great hobby to get into as it helps you understand the nature and daily lifestyle of birds.

How Many Bird Species Are There?

Currently, there are over 18,000 bird species in existence - almost double the amount that ornithologists previously thought. Birds are seen as a well-studied group with about 95% of their total global species have been described.

Researchers have already surveyed existing data on birds, that revealed about 20,000 bird species. But, since the birds in this study weren’t randomly selected - and most of them have been used because they were believed to have interesting genetics. The authors stated that bird future taxonomy experiments should have both requirements.

Due to this fact, birds have a diverse genetic pool. For bird watchers, this is a great advantage as it allows them to see a wide range of birds annually. Their huge population and diversity make it easier for a new birdwatcher to see a different bird every day.

Famous Birders

Famous bird watches fall into two categories: birder watchers who became famous because of their dedication to the hobby, or celebrities who are famous for something else but are also birdwatchers.

Paul McCartney - The Beatles

After the creation of the Beatles, Maccas developed a new band called Wings. Paul McCartney believed that birds were the “Ultimate symbol of freedom, of flying away. As a kid, I lived on the outskirts of Liverpool and could walk a mile to reach the countryside”.

Paul McCartney Bird Watching

His fascination with birdwatching is displayed in his song lyrics and titles. For instance, Bluebird by Wings, and Blackbird from The White Album. As a result, he would use his bird observations as emotional therapy and song inspiration 

Jimmy Carter - American author and politician

In a 2009 interview, Jimmy Carter stated that he found over 1,100 bird species throughout his lifetime. The 39th president started to record birds after their family trip to Tanzania in 1998.  After exploring Mount Kilimanjaro, a trained ornithologist gave them a lesson on birds and other wildlife.

Jimmy Carter Bird Watcher

Jimmy Carter and his wife Rosalyn began tracking every species they saw throughout their travels. In fact, Jimmy Carter has observed birds in the Middle East. The 39th President has participated in wildlife conservation groups like Operation Migration and counts birds for the Breeding Bird Survey.

Margaret Antwood - Author and Bird Activist

Margaret Antwood is an avid birdwatcher and advises the non-profit Pelee Island Bird Observatory Board. Her husband, Graeme Gibson, likes observing birds and they are birth presidents within the Rare Bird Club.

Margaret Antwood Birdwatcher

In 2010, Antwood collaborated with Balzac Coffee to make a blend of bird-friendly coffee that’s made from shade-grown organic beans from Mexico and Bolivia. The Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center certified the bird-friendly coffee and it's still currently sold in stores today.

Birding Equipment

To correctly observe birds, you’re going to need the right equipment. Doing so allows you to see the birds more clearly, resulting in enjoyable and accurate observations.  Here is some key birding equipment that you should never leave your home without.


Choosing birding binoculars is dependent on your preferences. What’s important to you might be unimportant for another birdwatcher.

Binocular quality is determined by a set of numbers: 8x42, 7x35, 10x50. The first number demonstrates how far the binocular can zoom in. For instance, if you have a 7 power binocular, objects will appear 7x closer than they appear.

You can opt for binoculars with a higher zoom-in range, but they have one minor disadvantage. Binoculars with larger zooming capabilities have a narrower field of view. Here’s a list of problems you’ll face if you buy a binocular with a large zoom range.

  • ​Difficult to focus on closer objects
  • ​More wheel rotations
  • ​Heavier to carry
  • binoculars
    Exaggerated shaking when held by hand
  • binoculars
    Small field of view

​​​​​Because of this, you should get a binocular that has a 7x or 8x zoom range. This allows you to view birds without losing light. Light plays an important role and is reduced each time you increase the magnification. Make sure that the binocular you choose is suited for your environment to enhance your bird watching experience.


There are two main types of birding binoculars: roof and porro. The table below gives a detailed explanation of both binoculars key traits and differences. Knowing these differences will help you buy an exceptional pair of binoculars that helps you get accurate observations on multiple bird species.



Streamlined and Slim

Bulky & Large



Internal Focus - More waterproofing seals

External Focus - o-ring seals can degrade and allow water & dirt to reach the interior.

Small field of view; prisms closely overlap.

Larger field of view.

Decreased depth perception due to straight inline barrels.

Better depth perception because of wider offset lens.

2 separate prisms combined into a single interior mount - this leads into a more durable design.

2 offset prisms that are mounted separately - weaker design due to alignment problems

Can become bright with the correct lens coating (PC corrected coating)

Higher light gathering capacity = Brighter

Costs more due to increased quality.

Less Expensive

With roof prism binoculars, the objective lenses are in line with the eyepieces. It results in a streamlined and slim appearance. Since they have high-quality technology, roof prism binoculars are more expensive than their porro counterparts.

For birdwatchers on a budget, Porro prisms are the best option. But, porro prisms aren’t as durable and rugged as roof prism binoculars. So it might be a better choice in the long run to get a roof prism binocular if you can afford it.

Audio Equipment

With a good audio set up, you can even record birds when they’re singing. Whether you’re using the sound equipment to extend your ability to hear far away birds, or for fun, you’re going to need a recorder to plug your headphones and microphone into.

Headphones that are connected to your recording equipment help you distinguish different bird sounds amongst the crowd. We suggest that you invest in high-quality pair of headphones to filter out ambient noise so you can solely hear the birds within your area.

Audio Equipment for Bird Watching

When it comes to microphones, only two of them are appropriate for birdwatching. Shotgun microphones can be used to hear sounds in a general direction without amplifying unwanted sound effects. Parabolic microphones are used when you want to hear birds from a distance.

Video Equipment

Thanks to advancements in technology, trail cameras are an essential birdwatching tool. To get the best one for you, you have to determine the features you’ll need and how you plan on using the camera.

The first thing you’ll have to consider is the video resolution. Like megapixels, the larger the video resolution, the clearer the image. A 640 x 480 resolution is viewed in standard definition. Higher quality images are viewed in either 720p or 1080p.

Bird Watching Video

Most medium to high-end trail cameras uses HD definition for better bird observation. Some models offer 4K resolution, which allows you to get a real-time image of your targeted birds. Whichever one you choose, make sure that it suits your needs and your price range.

You should also look into wingscapes cameras. Their main advantage is that they are weatherproof; making them a good choice for serious birdwatchers. Get a wingscape camera if you want accurate footage of your birds.

Birding Activities

So what kind of bird watching activities are popular?


One of the more critical scientific pursuits of birding is keeping track of bird populations across the world. Birding of this nature is mainly performed by scientists who are trained in population tracking methods. Birds are typically more difficult to track than other animals due to their wings.

While you can make a rudimentary count of the birds in your area, it will not be particularly useful unless you are monitoring an unusual or rare bird species. Monitoring is usually used to ensure that endangered bird species population levels do not drop below a number which is considered acceptable

Monitoring Birds In Nature

Increases and decreases in bird populations over a certain time period can help give researchers insight when it comes to the conditions and factors that lead to those fluctuations. While the birdwatchers who monitor the birds may not be the ones examining that data, they play their role.

More birders are always needed for monitoring, and if you are willing to learn, feel free to volunteer for local ornithological organizations and government bodies. Anyone with a rudimentary background in birding can help monitor bird populations in their local area.


Birding is not an activity which is only based on passive observation; there are some more active forms of birdwatching to partake in. If you have a competitive spirit, you may wish to participate in a birding competition. There are many of these tournaments around the world.

Perhaps the most famous example of these competitions is the World Series of Birding, which takes place in New Jersey. It is a competition in which the participants race to identify the largest number of different birds across the whole state in 24 hours. This competition tests your skill as a birdwatcher to the limit.

Bird Watching

Knowing the best spots to find various bird species is not the only difficulty in this competition, it is also going from place to place in the most efficient manner possible. Saving time will help ensure that you spot the largest variety of birds since you will be able to travel over a larger area.

The World Series does not have a prize; it is merely a competition which is arranged in the name of charity. As such, there is no need to prove that your group witnessed a certain bird breed, although at least two members of the team should have seen a bird to count it as another one spotted.

Environmental Education

Birding is one of the best ways to promote green living because it is a great way to bring people closer to nature, regardless of whether or not they are an enthusiast for the hobby. If you are looking for a great way to get the entire family interested in green living, encourage birding.

In addition to bringing you out into nature so you can admire it, you also get to interact with the birds. When you stay separated from nature for too long, you begin to forget its beauty and its importance to our world. People getting detached from nature is one of the reasons for pollution being so prevalent.

Environmental Education Bird Watcing

People who are educated about their surrounding environment will be more likely to live a green lifestyle since they will be more conscious about nature’s importance to us and the world. Birding is an excellent way to get some fresh air while admiring the natural beauty of avians.

Birding Etiquette

In any activity, it is always crucial to understand the proper etiquette. While you don't have to be afraid of making mistakes as a beginner, it always helps to be ready before going out on your first birding trip. Most of the time, birding etiquette consists of just being polite and considerate towards your fellow birders.

For example, try to be accommodating for other birders, listen to more experienced members of the group and try to teach those who are newer than you. It can be a little intimidating to get into birding for the first time so try to help make the transition easy for your fellow birdwatchers.

While you should be polite to those around you, try not to be overly chatty, if you talk, try not to be too loud. If your voice is too loud when you are interacting with your fellow birdwatchers, you may scare away nearby birds, and there is no guarantee that they will return.

Aside from how you should interact with your fellow birdwatchers, you should also have respect for the birdwatching ground that you are on.

Some of the most popular locations for birding tend to be sanctuaries for some of the species that you will observe and you may end up harming them by not following rules.

Birding Etiquette With Birds

For example, you will want to ensure that you never pollute the observation grounds under any circumstances, even accidentally. Scraps of trash can end up harming birds if they consume them. If you see any garbage on the ground, try to pick it up and put it in the proper receptacle for the sake of our avian friends.

While we are on the subject of how you should respect the grounds, you should extend that same respect to the birds themselves. While the hobby of birding consists of observing birds, there is a reason why we use binoculars; you do not want to get too close to the birds under any circumstances.

If you approach the birds too closely, they are not only likely to fly away since they are intimidated, the ones with chicks in their nests may end up stressed, and they can even abandon their nests. Approaching a nest too closely can also result in certain birds trying to attack you (such as robins and blackbirds).

As we stated when we began, birding etiquette is mostly a matter of being considerate of your surroundings and the birds.

Before doing anything when you are birding, think about how it will affect the birds and the environment. If everyone does their part, things will always go more smoothly.

Binocular Maintenance

As a birder, your most important piece of equipment will be your binoculars since they are the primary tool that you use to observe the birds in the first place. A pair of binoculars which is poorly maintained is one that will not serve you very well since the image will be unclear.

Many things can go wrong with binoculars that have not been appropriately maintained. Since birding can sometimes take place in more rigorous environments, you may also have to deal with any damage to your binoculars that may have been caused by your surroundings.

For example, if you are birding by a beach or an arid environment you may have to deal with sand in the workings of your binoculars. In sandy areas, you will want to keep your binoculars stowed away for as long as possible before you get to your observation spots.

If you are going birding by the beach, you will want to keep your binoculars as far away as possible from the water, especially saltwater. Saltwater damage, especially on the lenses of your binoculars, cannot be fixed, so your only recourse is to ensure that it does not happen in the first place.

Maintanance of Binoculars

When you are cleaning off the lenses of your binoculars, you will always want to use the finest of microfiber cloths, preferably ones which are made for use with high-power lenses. If there is dirt caked on the surface of your binocular lenses, you may have to use a cleaning solution.

Specific cleaning solutions for binoculars exist, but you can also use eyeglass cleaner or similar products intended for other lenses. In addition to cleaning the surface of the lenses on your binoculars, you should also make sure that none of the hinges or knobs on your binoculars are dirty.

The best solution for cleaning the tightest nooks and crannies is compressed air. All you have to do is spray the dusty areas of your binoculars with the compressed air can, and the dust will fly away. Compressed air eliminates the need for cotton swabs and fine brushes which can end up costing quite a bit in the long run.

If you want to ensure that your binoculars do not degrade in quality over the time that you use them, you should periodically check every one of their functions.

Going over your binoculars and testing every knob can help ensure that preventable issues can be dealt with early on before they take effect.


Thank you for taking the time to read this guide to birding, whether you are a beginner or an experienced birdwatcher, it never hurts to go over the basics. Knowing everything about the hobby of birding is one of the best ways to ensure that you get the most out of your experience.

Now that we have gone over the basics feel free to move on to our guide to finding the best birding binoculars. We will go over five of the best birding binoculars on the market and review each of them. Feel free to let us know what you think in the comments section down below.

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