Five Steps for Getting Started with Birds

Birds have been a part of human culture and daily lives since ancient times. They have traditionally functioned as indicators of weather, markers of time, as farming and hunting animals, and even used for medical purposes. Birds have also inspired musicians, poets, religious beliefs, and even assigned roles of a messenger of the gods.

Getting Started with Birds
Group of friends out birding in Abra Malaga (Cuzco). Photo: Nestor Ccacya.

I believe humans have an innate desire to interact with nature. For many, this desire has been turned idle by the demands of modern life.

Is there a day, we are not exposed to birds?

I doubt it. Birds are everywhere! Literally, birds are at every turn and are easy to watch. They come in different shapes, sizes, colors, and are most active during the day. They walk on the ground, swim in the water, perch on branches, and can fly as singles or in huge flocks. And as if that was not enough, they sing and are generally easy to approach to within a reasonable distance. They undergo migrations and appear and disappear through an annual cycle.

birding in colombia
Couple birding and photographing birds in Colombia. Photo: Arnulfo Sanchez.

Generally, the main reasons that attract people to birds are seeing birds themselves, being with friends and family, having the opportunity to experience nature and the outdoors, contributing to wildlife conservation, and being able to escape from daily social responsibilities.

Bird watching is generally a fun and relaxing activity that provides emotional and aesthetic pleasure. It can also be a competitive activity similar to mainstream sports where participants compete in events of various lengths of time with the purpose of observing and recording the greatest number of bird species within a determined period of time.

birding in montane forest
Some birds at found at specific locations and require getting there to see them. Photo: Leandro Vargas.

Whether you would like relaxing in your backyard or travel to see new birds, here are five steps to get started.

Five Steps to Get You Started with Birds

1) Learn about the fundamentals of birds and bird watching.

Get on the internet and search for information about birds. Beginning level information on bird biology, birding, bird watching abounds online. Knowledge about the various bird groups, bird morphology, bird behavior are essential for you to begin to separate different types of birds and understand why they choose different habitats and behave differently.

2) Get a field guide.

Some Field guides cover the birds of the entire country and others only the birds of a region. Some have a portray for each sex and plumage and others go in detail portraying multiple age stages and plumages. Some are small while others are bulkier.

The best you can do is doing your research for the most recommended field guide for your country or region and read what people say about them. Then, check the format online. If you like the balance between the bird portrays, size of the maps and text associated with each species, then go for it. Chances are you will end up buying multiple field guides over time.

Keep the field guide handy, read through the first pages showing the geography of a bird, terminology used, and how to use the guide.

A pair of binoculars and field guide is all you need for getting started with birds. Photo: Pixiabay.

3) Get a pair of binoculars

A pair of binoculars is essential to see details, colors, and improve your chance of identifying what you see. It is generally recommended to use binoculars that focus easily. This includes magnifications between 8x and 10x. A magnification of 10x is better at distance birding but have a narrower field of view, a slightly darker image, and more hand-shake. An 8x gives you a wider but smaller image that is brighter. The 8x binoculars are easier for finding and following birds. Binoculars within the ranges of “8×32” or “10×42, should work well.

snowy_egretFamiliarize yourself with large and conspicuous birds such a Snowy Egret (Egretta thula). Photo: Daniel Valle Basto.

4) Get out and look for birds.

Get out to an open green area, a nearby pond, or even your backyard, and start looking for birds. At this point, you will be putting in practice some of the things you learned and read about. It is important to go out with an open mind recognizing that you are out to see common and large and conspicuous birds. See what you can recognize. Here, it is essential not to get overwhelmed. Keep in mind that you are out to enjoy de outdoors and the birds. Make sure that at the end of your time outside you will want to do it again.

5) Join others in the field.

Once you have gained some experience with common and conspicuous birds, join others on a bird-nature outing. Ask questions and take notes about what you see and birds discussed during the outing. Once you get home, or when you get a chance grab the field guide, your notes, and a cup of tea, and see how your notes lead to the definite identification of a bird or clear up a doubt you had on a species you did not get a good look at. This is one of the most rewarding moments of birding!

Also, search for groups of interest online and join the conversation. The folks you went out with on the bird walk may recommend one or two online groups. If you have a Facebook account, you can fine-tune your search for groups in your region or skill level. Introduce yourself and begin posting.

Familiarize yourself with common birds and use them as a reference to identify others with a similar appearance. Photo: Alfredo Begazo. 

Closing remarks

Birding is a lifelong endeavor. You can keep it in your backyard, county, state, national, or take it to far-flung places across the globe.
Birding can be where science meets a day of enjoyment of the outdoors with friends. If you enter your observations into an online database, your data will contribute to the conservation of bird populations.
If you’ve been considering joining the ranks of the millions of bird enthusiasts worldwide, there’s no better time than the present to take the plunge. Your life is going to be better with birds in it!