Birding is quickly becoming the second fastest growing outdoor hobby in the United States, so if you’re new to birding, chances are high that you probably have quite a few questions about where to start. The easy answer, of course, is “Just get out there!” However, heading out without a plan can easily leave you feeling overwhelmed and potentially discouraged from going back out a second time. Set yourself up for success before beginning your trek into the great outdoors!
Pick Up a Field Guide
Before your trip, spend some time flipping through a field guide to start to become familiar with which birds can be found in your area. Guides for beginners are usually arranged by color of bird and only list common species, but because new birders may find it easier to start by identifying these birds first, they can be a great resource for learning about your newfound hobby.
Gather Some Gear
Your field guide, a simple pair of binoculars or a small telescope, and patience are among the most important things to bring along on any birding trip, especially your first one. Depending on the elements and whether or not you’re traveling far from home, water, sunscreen, and protective layers of clothing are all important as well.
Now that you’ve been looking through your field guide for a bit and have the necessary equipment for your first adventure, it’s time to actually get out there and start birding! Pick a bird from your guide that you know will be in your area for the time of year and try to find it. This is where the patience part comes into play— becoming discouraged too easily or too quickly can leave you feeling frustrated, and may even be the reason you lose interest in going back out again. Remember, the challenge is part of the reason that birding is a rewarding hobby.
Record Your Observations
Keep track of what you’ve identified! Whether you prefer to keep a traditional journal or download a mobile app to record your findings, getting it all down in writing will ensure you don’t forget any details about what you saw.
As you become more experienced with birding and work your way up from the basics, you’ll start to learn what does and doesn’t work for you. While a small field guide containing only common bird species around your neighborhood was great when you first began, you may find that one arranged by shape of bird is more suited for your skill level as you become more familiar with birding. You may also want to upgrade and add to your birding gear to make the most of your time in the field.
Whether you’re casually watching from your backyard or embarking on a trip in a new area, birding is a hobby that people of all ages can enjoy. It gets you outdoors, gives you a break from the hustle and bustle of everyday life, and can bring you in contact with fellow birders. All in all, there’s no “right” way to start birding—you’ll figure it all out through trial and error as you go. Have fun and good luck on your first birding trip!