Bird Watching

Insider Info

Bird watching is for anyone with a love of nature. Bird watchers especially like birds, and like to see them in the wild and learn about their lives.

Bird watching, also called "birding," involves seeking out and identifying birds. Most birders keep a log of the birds they see.

While most birders say the best thing about this activity is getting closer to nature, they also love competing with themselves. There is always another bird they haven't seen and the challenge to find it can be tough.

Some people go on special trips just to seek out a particularly rare bird. Even if they don't get a glimpse of it, it's a great excuse to get outdoors once in a while.

Once people start bird watching, they continue mostly because they find it so enjoyable, says the American Birding Association. Another strong motive is its educational value. Other reasons people stay with bird watching include an interest in conservation, an interest in meeting new people, and a love of the outdoors. People also like this hobby because it is so compatible with other activities.

Bird watchers come from all walks of life and are all ages. They all share a love for nature and animals.

You don't have to belong to an organization in order to bird watch, so it's difficult to say how many birders are out there gawking into the trees. The American Birding Association had 20,456 members in 1998. The National Audubon Society has over 500,000 members across North America, but not all of them are birders.

Birding is enjoying a lot of growth these days. There are plenty of exciting developments, like Internet chat groups, birding festivals, youth activities, birding camps and scholarships for those camps, says Dr. Paul Green of the American Birding Association. For example, the ABA has a teen chat service and runs 120 bird festivals a year.

People of all ages can enjoy birding. The ABA reports that seven percent of birders began this hobby at less than 10 years of age; 22 percent started between the ages of 10 and 19; 21 percent started in their 20s; 22 percent began in their 30s; 17 percent began in their 40s; nine percent began in their 50s; and three percent began in their 60s.

Most people get into bird watching because they're involved in related outdoor activities, like camping or hiking, says the ABA. Other people start when they catch a glimpse of a favorite bird, others start because they have friends who bird watch.

How much time you spend birding is up to you. A survey by the ABA shows that 61 percent of its members bird less than 50 days a year, 24 percent bird between 51 and 100 days a year, and only 15 percent bird more than 100 days a year.

How and where you bird is also up to you. Some birders travel outside their home state to see birds, while others go no further than their own backyard.

For those who travel abroad to see birds, the top locations are in Mexico and Central America. Birders also go to South America, Europe, Africa, Australia and even Antarctica.

Bird watchers become expert egg watchers and are able to identify the bird species just by looking at the eggs. These eggs belong to a pair of violet-green swallows.
Courtesy of: Birding in British Columbia Home Page

The great thing about bird watching is that birds are everywhere, so it doesn't matter where you are, you can always enjoy your hobby. And, of course, it's free.

If you want to get serious about bird watching, you should invest in a good pair of binoculars and some bird-watching books. Prices range depending on what kind of binoculars you get. Books also vary in price. The biggest outlay will be a camera, getting the right zoom lenses can add up to hundreds of dollars.

You also may want to buy a pair of sturdy, comfortable shoes if you intend to go tramping over hills and into the bushes to seek out birds.

Bird watching is one of the wildlife-related hobbies that continues to be a key part of American life. About 77 million adults enjoy some form of wildlife-related recreation every year, according to a nationwide survey sponsored by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Americans spend $104 billion on wildlife-related recreation during a year, while they spend only $81 billion on new cars.

If you really love birding, you might consider choosing a related career. "Careers in research are many, though competitive," notes Green, who is the director of conservation and education for the American Birding Association. "A well-developed knowledge of birds can be a great help in pursuing a career with the forest service or universities. I'm just finishing up an article on the role of volunteerism in skill development for a career in research."

Getting Started

To get started as a bird watcher, the first thing to do is get a bird book. Melanie Ingalls recommends the National Geographic Guide to Birds, which covers all of America, or one of the Peterson series publications, depending on where you live.

If you join up with a well-organized birding group, you'll get a local newsletter about what's going on.

There are bird clubs in most cities. Contact a national birding association for addresses close to home. Another option is to get in touch with a naturalist club -- these groups often have birding sections. You can check with your recreation center for a list of clubs in your area.

This is the advice Dr. Green gives to young people starting out in this hobby: "The best thing a young person can do is to find someone else in the region who is a birder, and go out birding with them. Join the ABA, and we'll provide lists of local contacts. We provide half-price memberships for students [$18]. Or, young people can just subscribe to our youth newsletter for only $6. Buy a field guide [National Geographic is best], buy a good binocular, and a field notebook."


American Birding Association

National Audubon Society


Beginner's Guide to Bird Watching
Useful tips and resources for novice bird watchers

Raptor Education Foundation
Learn more about raptors

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