How to Get Started with Birding as a New Hobby

How many times do you find yourself stopping to look at an interesting or eye-catching bird? Maybe you’ve started to pay more attention to their different calls, and perhaps even considered setting up a feeding station in your yard. If all of this sounds familiar, then National Go Birding Day, taking place on April 27, is geared toward you.

National Go Birding Day is a wonderful way to draw attention to birds in general, encouraging people to slow down and focus on the nature around them. Birding is one of the most popular hobbies here in the United States, as it’s the kind of activity that all ages and skill levels can enjoy.

If you like the sound of birdwatching but aren’t exactly sure how to get started in the hobby, here are some useful tips to try.

Start Learning About the Local Species

Bird Identification field guide in hand walking in Nature
Image Credit: Shutterstock / 4thebirds

What new birders quickly discover is that most locations have an abundance of species. If you’ve never looked closely at the birds that inhabit your little square of the sky, then you are in for a shock. According to the National Geographic bird field guide, North America is home to 990 bird species. That means no matter where you are in the country, you’re bound to see lots of variety.
Remember, the species you can spot will vary depending on not just the location, but also the time of year. Migratory patterns will factor into your sightings.

Find Simple Places to Start Watching Birds

Birdwatching kid looking through binoculars at birdhouse
Image Credit: Shutterstock / alexei_tm

You may be used to seeing photos of birdwatchers in nature reserves, forests, and on trails but you don’t have to venture out that far to see them. Simply watching the birds in your backyard is a great place to start. It’s a way to ease into the hobby without overwhelming yourself.

Set Up a Bird Feeding Station in Your Yard

Birds feeding on a bird feeder
Image Credit: Shutterstock / Donna Apsey

And speaking of watching birds in your backyard, you can increase the activity by setting up a bird feeding station. You can keep the station as basic as you want, or create something more elaborate meant to attract a variety of species.

A couple of tips to keep in mind when setting up a bird feeding station include:

  • Place bird feeder(s) near a tree, brush, large bushes, or other areas that give birds safe cover if needed.
  • Bird feeders should be elevated, not ground level.
  • Choose the right feeder style for the birds in your area.
  • Choose the right kind of food/seed for the birds in your area.
  • Keep the feeders clean.
  • Add a bird bath to the area.

Pick Up the Basic Gear

Binoculars and Bird Guide
Image Credit: Shutterstock / 4thebirds

Birding as a hobby is a relatively low-cost one to get into. But if you find it’s something you enjoy and want to advance to the next level, you can always upgrade your gear.

To get started, all you need is a set of decent-quality binoculars and a birding manual/book to help you identify the local species. A couple of tips when shopping for binoculars are to look for a pair that isn’t too heavy to hold and carry, they are waterproof, and they have excellent clarity and brightness.

Many hobbyists also like to carry a notebook with them so they can make note of sightings. For those who want to make more of an initial investment up-front, you may want to purchase a good-quality camera for taking photos of the birds. If you don’t want to carry a book with you, there are apps dedicated to birdwatching that allow you to store photos and make notes within them.

Venture Out to More Remote Areas

Birdwatcher with his equipment at the sand dunes.
Image Credit: Shutterstock / Leif Ingvarson

Now that you’ve started to familiarize yourself with the birds in your area and have the starter gear needed, it’s a good time to venture into more remote areas for birdwatching. Places such as forested trails, parks, and nature reserves are perfect for birdwatching. You’ll likely see much more variety in these settings than your backyard feeder station.

One important thing to note is that even in these areas that have more birds, you still need to practice patience. They aren’t necessarily going to start landing the moment you arrive, so hunker down and be prepared to wait for a bit.

Brush Up on Your Identification Skills

A Steller's jay perches in the winter bare branches of a cottonwood tree
Image Credit: Shutterstock / MelaniWright

New birders in particular often get so excited about spotting birds that they don’t always take the time to identify them properly. It’s a good idea to start practicing your identification skills, looking for the smallest of details. Even a tiny marking or a slight difference in coloring will make a huge impact on identification. At the very least, this is a chance to better your observational skills in general, which is a helpful life skill.

Start Waking Up Earlier

Sea Bird sitting on a wooden pier by the ocean during a vibrant cloudy sunrise in Daytona Beach, Florida, United States.
Image Credit: Shutterstock / EB Adventure Photography

Here’s a tip not everyone wants to hear, but when it comes to birdwatching there’s no way around it. The best birdwatching opportunities tend to happen early in the morning, so if you aren’t a morning person yet, it’s time to change that. Even if that means waking up early and having your morning coffee outdoors to watch your feeding station, it will be worth the effort.

Birds, like humans, sleep at night so once they wake up in the morning, they are hungry and ready to feed. In terms of the worst time of day to birdwatch, that would be midday. Typically birds are the least active at noon.

Join a Local Birdwatching Club

Naturalist in the outdoors learning how to identify bird species, El Avila National Park
Image Credit: Shutterstock / Edgloris Marys

Another tip is to join a local birdwatching club or group. Considering that about one-third of Americans identify as “birders”, there’s a good chance your city or town has a chapter, club, or even online community dedicated to the hobby. Connecting with birders will give you a chance to learn more about the hobby, get some useful tips, and share exciting sights with them.

Be Careful Not to Harm Wildlife Habitats

Woman talking to a baby bird retrieved from the floor.
Image Credit: Shutterstock / buenaventura

This is more of an etiquette tip, but it’s still important. You never want to leave a negative impact on the environment while birding. This means making sure you don’t leave garbage behind, don’t get too close to birds especially when nesting, don’t disturb nests, and so forth.

Make Time for Your New Hobby

A tit bird landing on one's hand
Image Credit: Shutterstock / Mykola Ivashchenko

This final tip is all about prioritization. Now that you’ve got a fun new hobby you need to be sure you carve out time to pursue it. Just like any other hobby, practice makes perfect so the more chances you get for birdwatching, the more skilled you’ll become at it. Not to mention, it will increase your odds of sighting rarer species in the region.

Become a Birder in No Time
Using these tips and putting in a little time and energy means you’ll become a birder in no time. Birdwatching is the kind of hobby that can be enjoyed year-round and all over the world, making it incredibly versatile. However, there really is no better day to get started with your new hobby than on National Go Birding Day!

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