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Bird Watching for Beginners

Whether you just like to watch the birds in your back yard, or you want to get out in the woods, bird watching is a great deal of fun. Below are some good tips to get you started in your bird watching.


Northern Cardinal

1. Get a Field Guide

It is important that you have a good guide for the birds that are in your region of the country or world. In our opinion, a really good guide for a new bird watcher is the Peterson Field Guide to Birds of Northern America. After you become more knowledgeable with the birds in your region, you will probably want to pick up the National Geographic Field Guide to the Birds of North America.

Another way to learn about the birds of North America that works for us is the website All About Birds.  (below). This is a great site to have bookmarked for learning all about the birds of North America. It’s also a great tool if you are simply watching birds on your deck or patio. You will become accustomed to your regular little visitors at your feeders, but every once in a while, you will see a bird you don’t know.

You can view the categories of birds by shape, and then drill down to specific birds in your region. We also like how you can listen to the calls of all of the listed birds.

bird guide


2. You Need Binoculars – Good Ones!

If you are going out into the field to look at birds, a good set of binoculars are very important. They actually are particularly important for the beginner – you don’t have the bird knowledge yet to be able to easily identify most birds by sight. Good binoculars really will help you develop your eye. A good set of budget birder binoculars is pictured below – the Pentax DCF NV 8X36. These binoculars are recognized by professional birders as a good value and durable. They also are light enough to carry all day in your pocket or around your neck.

For more information about selecting binoculars for birding, we like this resource at Birding.com.

Pentax DCF NV 8x36
Pentax DCF NV 8×36


3. You Have to Know What Birds To Expect In Your Region

This is where your bird guide or the website All About Birds comes into play. Many species of birds look a great deal alike. For example, that black and white woodpecker with the red head you see in Virginia at your birdfeeder is probably a downy woodpecker, not a Nuttall’s woodpecker that is only found in the West.

You can easily pick up a checklist of the types of birds commonly found in your area. These are available at most state and national parks, and you also can find these checklists at Birding.com. You also can check this Where to Bird link at birding.com to get an idea of great places to watch birds near you.

downy woodpecker

Downy Woodpecker - Common in Eastern US


4. You Need to Go Where the Birds Are

Many beginning birders just set up feeders in their backyard and see what sorts of birds show up. There is nothing wrong with this, but you have to get out in the field to see the many birds of your area. You need to read your field guide to discover the sort of habitat that each type of bird typically prefers. Do they like to hang around the tops of trees most of the time, on the ground, or near the water?

You also should learn the songs and calls of the birds that come to your yard (with such sites at All About Birds). Then, you should try to learn the songs of the birds of all the birds in your part of the country. You most often will hear the bird before you see it, so knowing its calls and songs is critical.

Blue Jay

Blue Jay


5. Attract Birds to Your Yard

You can bring quite a few birds to your yard with a little bit of effort. Some trees and shrubs that can be attractive to many songbirds include:

  • Serviceberry
  • Massachusetts Bearberry
  • Brilliant Red Chokeberry
  • Pink Azalea
  • Fringetree
  • Giant Gray Dogwood
  • Cranberry Cotoneaster
  • Creeping Wintergreen
  • Longstalk Holly

Of course, you also can attract many birds to your yard with different sorts of bird feeders. A traditional bird feeder with sunflower seeds will attract many beautiful birds, such as cardinals, blue jays, tit mice and gold finches. A suet feeder with a solid block of birdseed is a great way to attract woodpeckers.

Some pictures of good bird feeders for your yard are below.

Suet Feeder

Nuthatches and Woodpecker at Suet Feeder


Gold Finch

Gold Finch at Thistle Feeder



Cardinals Eating Sunflower Seeds


And if you want to really have some fun with your bird watching, learn to feed birds by hand by watching the video below!

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One Response to Bird Watching for Beginners

  1. neeta January 4, 2012 at 2:46 pm #

    Its amazing to see the birds…how they are eating food from the hand..Its lovely.

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