This page will give you ideas about where and how to observe birds and what you will need to enjoy and learn from the experience. (Hint: You don’t need much to get started!) You’ll also get ideas for ways to learn more (get informed). If you want to become part of the global community of people who are watching, reporting and learning about birds, check out how to get involved.
Are you ready to find out how to earn your wings as a birder? Let’s go!
Like many hobbies, bird watching can be expensive if you want it to be…but unlike most hobbies, it really doesn’t have to cost a penny! Once you get started, you’ll discover that birds are everywhere, and you’ll find your favorite places and ways to observe and enjoy them.
Ideas for Observing Birds
At home: I love having breakfast with the birds! It is a joy to open the blinds and see the “early birds” … in my case, Northern Cardinals, enjoying their morning meals. In the background I hear the delightful song of the Carolina Wrens…the littlest big singers! Throughout the day, there is a pattern of who-what-where-when, which has been fun to observe over time. And then, as the day’s light fades to dusk, the Cardinals return. Their “cheep, cheep, cheep” brings to full circle a day with the birds.
Northern Cardinal female coming for food
Carolina Wren waiting for someone to fill up the meal worm dish
Even in my small garden within city limits, I have documented over 50 species of birds. Depending on the environment where you live, you may find fewer…or maybe many more!
If you are just getting started, here’s a challenge: Write down the number of birds you think you will be able to document in your own space in a year. (A year is a good measure because of bird migration. At different times of year, you may see different birds.) Will you see 10 different species? 20? More? You can even make your prediction the first entry in your bird-watching journal!
Then, all you need to do is start watching. Write down each new species you observe. (You may want to write the date you first see the bird.) Pretty soon, you’ll be surprised at your list and how much you’ve come to learn about birds just by looking out your own window.
At a park: Do you frequent a park in your town or neighborhood? Perhaps you like to jog, ride your bike, walk the dog, or just sit a people watch. Have you gone to that particular park simply to look for and listen to birds? Even the smallest park on the corner may yield some surprising finds is you take the time to stop, look, and listen. Give it a try!
I found this juvenile Yellow-crowned Night Heron at a community park along a marsh just a few miles from home. You don’t have to go far to find something new, like this life-list bird for me.
On a trip: Next, expand your horizons. Check online to see if you are missing out on some of your local or county run parks. Do you know where the closest state or national parks are in relation to your home? You may be surprised to find a wildlife refuge or other hidden gem. As you plan a vacation, check out possible birding opportunities along the way or at your destination.
This website has state and national parks and forests and other designated places listed by state:
Here is a link to a list of U.S. National Parks by state:
This photo of a mature Bald Eagle and the photos below (clockwise from top left: Killdeer, Canada Geese, Northern Harrier, Great Blue Heron) were taken on my most recent visit to Montezuma National Wildlife Refuge in Seneca Falls, NY.
This link will help you find a National Wildlife Refuge near you or near your next vacation spot:
Via computer: In recent years, there has been an explosion of information accessible via the Internet. No phenomenon has been more compelling to bird lovers than the introduction of “nest cams” or “bird cams” … live-feed video cameras that look into the nests of many species of birds. Many of these websites have chat rooms and/or other informational resources, so that the viewer can not just peek into the lives of nesting birds, but learn more about the species and interact with others around the world who are watching. Entire communities of like-minded people have grown up around these cams!
I must confess that I have journeyed to Ithaca, New York four times in three years, to visit the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and meet “bird cam” friends. The Cornell Lab of Ornithology is a pioneer in this online experience. The first two nest cams I found were right on the Cornell campus, and are still active.
The images above are from my visit to Ithaca in June, 2015. The “F-Troop” (chicks of 2015) and their parents, Big Red (female) and Ezra (make) are pictured left to right. Visit Cornell’s Red-tailed Hawk Cam at:
The images above are of Sapsucker Woods and “Dad” Heron, taken during my visit to Ithaca in September, 2015. See Sapsucker Pond, home of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, where a Great Blue Heron nest once existed (and read the story of the heron family and what happened to the nest) at:
To find a list of the cams that are sponsored by the Cornell Lab or by its partners, visit this site. Fair warning – if you are like thousands of other people around the world, you’ll soon be hooked on one or more favorite species and will set aside time on a regular basis to follow your favorite birds!
There are many ways to learn more about birds, from the Internet to books to learning from fellow birders. Below are several resources from which to choose as you enhance your knowledge of birds.
Apps: There are several bird identification apps for your smart phone. My go-to apps are “Merlin” (the Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s app that identifies 400 North American birds), “iBird Pro” (the Mitch Waite group’s interactive field guide to birds of North America) and “Audubon Birds” which also allows the user to connect to eBird and report sightings.
These apps are like enhanced field guides with photos, range maps, and descriptions of identifying features; often they include audio so that you can see if the call you heard is really the bird you think it is. I often use one or more apps instead of carrying a print field guide when I’m out and about, away from home.
Ways to Get Involved
Share your observations.
Share what you learn about birds and ways to help them.
All photographs on this website are copyright © Sunny Blue Productions, LLC.