The ABC's of Bird Watching & Feeding
Bird watching and backyard bird feeding have become one of the most popular hobbies in America. Bird watching offers something for almost anyone who has an appreciation of nature. It can be a casual interest or it can become a sport for fanatics. It can be done in your own backyard and nearby parks or around the world. It can be as simple as watching the feeder from your back porch or as challenging as climbing a 10,000 ft. mountain to see a new species.
Bird Watching & Getting started
There are as many reasons for people to become interested in bird watching as there are different kinds of birds. Often the bird bug bites as a result of observing the birds attracted to a back yard feeder and the desire to be able to identify the different kinds of birds that show up
Whether you are interested in becoming more knowledgeable about the birds in your yard or are read to move further a field by identifying birds found in local parks, wildlife refugees or the beach there are several common factors to consider.
1. Binoculars In order to identify the birds you see you will need a good pair of binoculars. A poor pair of binoculars will make your job much more difficult, while a good pair will yield more beauty and detail than ever expected.
2. As you start to study the birds more you will need a book of some kind to help you identify each species. There are a multitude of books available ranging from those aimed at the beginning birder to the most advanced species profiles for the expert birder.
That's all you need to get started, a good pair of binoculars and a good field guide. After that it is just a matter of time and patience in learning to recognize the different species. You will find it easier and much more fun to spend some time in the field with more experienced bird watchers. (Really good bird watchers are called "birders" and some get their feathers ruffled if you call them a bird watcher.) Most local Audubon Societies offer field trips where the beginner can rub shoulders with the more experienced bird watchers and pick up some good tips in identifying the different species. Check with local bird specialty stores, nearby state or national parks for other opportunities to spend time in the field with more experienced birders. You can also check with your local colleges and junior colleges to see if they are offering any introductory courses in bird watching.
Many states have a state ornithological society. Joining the state society is a great way to learn more abut the birds in your area. Most have annual meetings which provide a great forum for meeting others with similar interests and learning about the birds. (Check the States info on Birdzilla to see if one is listed for your state.)
There are hundreds of tour companies and bird guides that can help you sign up for a trip to a particular area and will provide an expert to point out the species to you.
As you start to watch birds you'll begin to pick up special traits of different species. Some birds almost always stay high in the trees (some warblers), others soar (hawks and vultures) and others prefer to frequent low shrubbery and feed primarily on the ground (robins and sparrows). With experience you will be able to use habitat, the way the bird flies, the time of year and the bird's call to help identify the different species.
Keep in mind that learning to identifying all the birds that you see can be a challenge and even the experts can not identify everyone they see or hear. If you see a bird you can not identify make good notes of its description, when it was seen, where it was seen and its behavior. As you gain experience you can refer back to your notes and often identify the species yourself. Sometimes a more experienced bird watcher will be able to tell what the bird was from your description.
You may become so involved that you decide to keep a list of the different species that you have seen. This may be a list of the birds in your back yard or you may develop your own "life list." You cam learn more about keeping a list of the birds you see in the "Keeping a List" section.
Good luck and good birding!