Birding: Getting Started
Andrew Jobes is a Peterborough Ornithologist, yoga teacher, and Counselling Psychology student who’s been working with and enjoying birds since 1993. He administers the local Facebook birding group, Peterborough Ontario Birds.
Birding is a great way to get outside, socialize, and connect with nature. It’s fun, challenging, and there’s always something new to see, hear, or learn. This post will help you get started.
I use the term birding instead of birdwatching, because it goes beyond watching (which is not available to everyone) to include listening (also not available to everyone) and the overall experience of being outdoors with the birds.
Be sure to wear weather-appropriate clothing and
terrain-appropriate footwear, pack water and snacks,
bring sunscreen, and prepare for biting insects, including
If you intend to watch, binoculars are essential. There are
many options ranging from $50 – $1,500+. It’s beyond this
post to cover binocular shopping in detail, but a cheap pair
is a cheap pair. As with cameras, high-end binoculars have
high-end optics, which carry larger price tags. When
binocular shopping, consider durability, size, weight, and
shock and weather resistance (handy for heavy rain and
Many binocular straps are thin and bite into the neck. Your neck and shoulders will thank you for investing in a wide strap or a backpack-style harness.
Before purchasing, ask friends how they like their binoculars and read a few online reviews. Locally, Peterborough Photo Services on Charlotte Street carries a variety of quality binoculars and can help you find a pair that meets your needs.
You may wish to get to know the birds you see. If you do, you’ll likely need some help. As with binoculars, there’s an enormous variety of bird identification guides available, and it’s ultimately up to you to choose what you like. Consider where you’re likely to go birding (e.g., eastern North America versus throughout North America). Range maps, ideally on the same page as bird images, can help by eliminating similar-looking species that don’t occur where you are.
Most bird identification guide introductions are extremely valuable for learning the different parts of birds and things to look for that help with identification. I recommend that everyone, even experienced birders, takes the time to read them.
Phone apps are revolutionizing birding. Cornell University runs a globally respected bird research lab. Their app, Merlin, is popular and helpful. Apps like Song Sleuth, BirdNET, or BirdGenie, listen to songs and tell you what species are singing.
Other Useful Items
A small notebook and pencil (better than pen in the damp) allows you record where you go, with whom, the date and times you’re there, and bird species. If you forgot your field guide, you could also sketch key features of birds seen and try to figure out what they were when you get home.
Connect with Community
Birding can be enjoyed alone, with friends, or as part of an organized outing. There are lots of ways to connect with other local birders. The Peterborough Field Naturalists offers free local weekend walks in the spring and summer, and my Peterborough Ontario Birds Facebook group, which has about 1,100 members at the time of writing, is supportive and educational