Can you name the number one spectator sport in North America? It’s not baseball, figure skating or racing. It’s bird watching. That’s right, more people are watching birds than football and hockey combined. With so many people hoping to see a bird they’ve never seen before, it’s not surprising to see a clamoring for the latest tips and tools to get the job done. Here are my top five tips for getting the most out of your birding experience.
- Get to Where the Birds Are! This sounds obvious, but many birders spend the majority of their bird watching time and energy on poor locations. Some folk have the advantage of looking out of their windows into the back yard to observe nature’s best. The rest of us need to get moving. I would highly recommend visiting a National Wildlife Refuge. There are over 500 of them across the United States.
- Know What Species to Expect. There are approximately 900 species of birds in the United States and recognizing each of them is nearly impossible. So when you visit an area, do a little research first. You may find that perhaps only a few species actually inhabit that particular area. With a little preparation, you will be able to more readily identify bird species from each other. Keep a list of successfully viewed species – we’ll call this tip number two and a half.
- Get a Great Pair of Binoculars. Spending time and money to get to the right place can be totally wasted when your binoculars are inadequate. If you have an inexpensive pair of binoculars you are not getting the most out of your viewing. Today’s technologies come at a price and they provide crucial benefits in wildlife viewing. For instance, image stabilization will keep your view from shaking-very important when watching from a long distance. Other cool features include anti-fogging, low-light viewing and wide-view characteristics. Additionally, binoculars with built-in digital cameras enable you to identify birds once you get home. These benefits will definitely enhance your bird watching. A great pair of binoculars will turn a mediocre experience into a great one. You can count on it!
- Practice Before You Go. A key to viewing wildlife, and especially birds, is to have the ability to very quickly put your binoculars on target. Many people have difficulty finding a full moon in a pair of binoculars-but alas-learning to focus on a bird in a bush or track a bird in flight is easy for someone who has practiced prior to their outing. Try this before you go; lower your binoculars to your side and very quickly raise them to find and follow a jet airliner across the sky. After only a few attempts, you’ll get good at quickly acquiring your target. Quite often, birds are visible for only a few seconds, practice to become proficient.
- Take Someone with You. Life is always better when shared. Not only do you get to spend time out of doors with someone you like, but they might alert you to the “Number One Sight of the Day.” Share your birding experiences with your friends and family. Pass the birding excitement to a child.
The best part about wildlife viewing is that you the viewer, control almost every aspect of the experience. The more you are prepared, the more rewarding your time in our backcountry will be.