1. Your enjoyment of birds depends hugely on how great they look through your binoculars. In recent years, excellent binoculars have become available at surprisingly low prices.
While binoculars under $100 may seem tempting, it’s truly worth it to spend $250 to $300 to get vastly superior images as well as lifetime warranties, waterproof housing and light weight.
Two models for beginning birders are Nikon Monarchs and Leupold Yosemites (especially for younger birders). Consider getting 7-power or 8-power binoculars — they’re a nice mix of magnification while still allowing you a wide enough view that your bird won’t be constantly hopping out of your image.
2. Get a good field guide, whether a book or an app (see box). Many apps include sounds.
3. The next step is to bring the birds into your backyard, where you can get a good look at them. Start with a black-oil sunflower feeder, add a suet feeder in winter and a hummingbird feeder in summer. From there, you can diversify to millet, thistle seeds, mealworms and fruit to attract other species.
4. Now you want to start looking at those ducks on the far side of the pond, or shorebirds in mudflats, or that Golden Eagle perched on a tree limb a quarter-mile away. Though they’re not cheap, spotting scopes are indispensable for getting those last few clues about a species’ ID — or to simply revel in intricate plumage details that can be brought to life only with a 20x to 60x zoom.
5. Take pictures. With the proliferation of digital gadgetry, you can take photos anywhere, anytime. Snapping even a blurry photo of a bird can help you or others clinch its ID. And birds are innately artistic creatures.
6. Once you’re outside and surrounded by birds, practice a four-step approach to identification. First you judge the bird’s size and shape. Then look for its main color pattern. Take note of its behavior and what habitat it’s in.
7. Some birders are listers, compiling the species they’ve seen. But you don’t have to be a lister to reap benefits of writing down what you see. Think of notes as a chronicle of your life through the birds you’ve seen and places you’ve been. Many people keep records online in the Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s free eBird project (http://ebird.org), which keeps track of every place and day you go bird watching, allows you to enter notes and share sightings with friends, and explore the data all eBirders have entered.
Source: The Cornell Lab