Becoming a Better Birder: How To Spot More Birds

When you’re new to birding, you’ll probably miss more birds than you spot.

When I first started birding, I wasn’t any good at spotting birds.

I’d go out to the woods for hours at a time, but end up only seeing a dozen or so species.

Back at home, I’d go online and compare my list against other birders who had been in the same area. They typically had lists three or four times the length of mine.

I’d wonder how I had seen so few birds when other birders were seeing so many.

Were they just lucky? No! Those other birders had spent years developing the skills needed to spot birds.

If you’re a beginner birder, you’re likely missing more birds than you spot. Fortunately, there are a few ways to immediately start seeing more birds. Here are a few of the tips I’ve learned over the years:

The biggest mistake I made when I first started birding is that I was always moving, walking along a trail as I scanned for birds.

I think I expected that by covering more ground I’d maximize the number of birds I had a chance at seeing.

Unfortunately, when you’re on the move, it’s easy to walk right past birds without noticing them.

Instead, try staying still for a few minutes (or longer). Let the birds have some time to move around so that you’ll be more likely to see them.

The second mistake I made was relying only on my eyes. Make sure to listen for birds as well.

Listening goes hand in hand with staying still. If you’re constantly walking, you’ll drown out a lot of the birds with your footsteps.

If you stand still and remain quiet, you’ll start to hear all kinds of sounds that you would have missed.

Don’t just listen for the birds’ calls. Even the sound of a bird hopping along a branch could be enough to point you in the right direction.

Binoculars are a great tool for birders, but they should be used primarily for getting a better look at a bird, not for finding the bird in the first place.

It’s (generally) easier to find birds with the naked eye because you have a much wider field of vision.

Binoculars limit your field of vision to such an extreme degree that you can’t really scan an area at all.

When you first start birding, you might be too focused on looking in the sky and at the treetops.

Don’t forget to look on the ground and at eye level though. Birds aren’t always in the sky, and you’ll see a greater variety of species if you’re looking at all heights.

If you see a person walk by with a giant zoom lens on their camera, chances are that they can point you towards some interesting birds.

Don’t be intimidated by more experienced bird watchers. Most birders that I’ve met love to help others get into the hobby. They are normally more than happy to tell you about any unusual birds they’ve spotted that day, and maybe even give you some pointers.

Most beginner birders are familiar with field guides. They list the birds in your area and can be used to look up the birds you don’t recognize.

You should also spend some time browsing these guides when you aren’t actively birding.

Get familiar with the birds in your area, and you’ll have an easier time spotting them in the wild. Knowing what to look for makes it easier for your brain to register the birds once you’re actually outside.

I hope these tips above will help any new birder immediately start seeing more birds, but don’t forget that spotting birds is a skill that gets better with practice.

The more you go out birding, the easier you’ll find it to spot a wide variety of birds. Don’t get discouraged if you have a little trouble early on. Instead, enjoy the birds you do see and keep getting outside for more!

Written by

I’m a lawyer and teacher from North Carolina. I write about sobriety, mental health, running, and more.

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