A Guide to Start Bird Watching: Advice to Novice Birders on Binoculars, Bird Guides and Looking


Though many people would admit to enjoying a good nature documentary, most would not take that next step of watching the natural world themselves. You do not need to be an expert with fancy equipment to start.

Birds are the perfect subjects; they are everywhere and can be tempted close to your house with feeders, bird baths and flowers. They come in such an array of colors, sizes and shapes that they never fail to amaze.

A step-by-step guide to your first glimpse into the lives of your backyard birds:

  1. Step outside your house in the early morning. (Please note, you do not have to start at dawn. Though birding is especially good at that time, the early rise might convince you that looking at birds is not for you.) Once you are outside, stand in one spot and close your eyes and listen. Do not try to think what is making every sound—just listen. This will help you to realize just how many birds are in your backyard. It will undoubtedly surprise you.
  2. Now, go for a short walk around your backyard or neighborhood. See how many birds you see. Try a bit of a challenge and get as close to as many of the birds as you can.
  3. Hopefully, by this point you will want to know what every bird you saw is. Good…your interest is piqued. It is now time to get two birding tools: a bird guide and binoculars. Though these are not essential, it will be more satisfying with them in hand.

Now you are ready to begin for real. Start small. If you don’t already have one, get a bird-feeder and set it up so you can watch easily from a comfy seat outside or inside. (It does not matter what kind of feeder you get. Birds do not know how much money you spent on your feeder, so if it holds a basic bird seed and hangs where you want it, it should be perfect.)

Start by watching the birds with just your eyes. This will give you an idea of relative size, color, flying patterns, etc. Now look at the feeder with your binoculars. Start with the feeder itself, because you know where it is and it’s not moving. Play around a little with the binoculars—making sure the focus is right (read your manual for details).

Now try to look at the birds landing on the feeder or on the ground. Look at one bird at a time. It is important that you begin to feel comfortable with your binoculars. Don’t worry if you feel a bit disoriented at first; that is normal.

Good job! Those are the first steps. Yes, they are simple, but they will be the backbone for all your birding adventures. The next step is to start identifying the birds coming to your feeder. Please read A Guide: Expanding Birding Skills for more information on what specifics to focus on when looking at your avian visitors.