Photo: Camilla Cerea/Audubon

How to Start Birding

If you’ve been considering joining the ranks of the 47 million birders in the United States, there's no better time than the present to take the plunge—or at least dip your toes in. But wait. Which bins should you choose? Where should you go? How do you even find a bird? If you're a novice, this handy primer will give you the tools you need to venture into the field with confidence. (First tip: Always casually refer to binoculars as "bins.")

Gear up.

Every hobby has its essential gear, and birding is no exception. All you need to get started is a pair of binoculars, a field guide, a weather-proof notebook, and an easy-to-use birding app. Here are our picks.
 
Celestron’s Nature DX 8x32 binoculars (above; $120) offer considerable quality for a budget-friendly price; they feel good in the hand, produce sharp images, and have a close focus of 6.5 feet, perfect for viewing nearby finches at your feeder (visit our Audubon Guide to Binoculars for the best bins in every price range). Practical and compact, with digitally altered photographs that enhance important field markings, the Kaufman Field Guide to Birds of North America ($19) is a favorite among new birders. You’ll want to record the varied birds you’re identifying, and the waterproof Rite in the Rain Birder’s Journal ($8) ensures that inclement weather won’t destroy those precious notes. Not only does the Audubon Bird Guide App (free) feature calls, songs, and in-depth info about 810 species, it also draws on the continuously updated eBird database to help you find specific birds near you.
Or you can build your own kit, with a little help from these starter guides.  

Do your homework.

Prepping for your first big birding outing means more than studying your field guide (though you should do that, too). Birding can be an adventure, but it should never be reckless. Study the American Birding Association's set of guidelines to help you minimize your impact on birds and other wildlife when you're in the field, and be sure you know how to keep yourself safe, as well. Finally, developing a quick pre-birding routine can save you a lot of pain in the long run: Check the elements, consider the season, and look up your local species occurrences prior to any outing.

Know where to go.

You don’t have to stray far from home to go birding: Any green space or open water source will do. Use virtual maps to pinpoint good spots and plan your itinerary right from home. These are the types of places you can check out around you.

Hit the field.

Finding birds is much easier said than done. Scoping them out requires a bit of skill, and once you’ve got your eyes on the prize, you’ll want to figure out what exactly it is that you’re gawking at. Here's how you do it.

Join the club.

Ready to see who else is out there? Meetups, chapters, online communities—there are plenty of ways to tune in and meet other birders. Read on for ideas on how you can make those connections.

Looking for inspiration? Check out the personal stories that other birders have shared in our “Why I’m a Birder” series. 

Find Your Muse

Scroll through our online bird guide (available in English and Spanish) to get a glimpse of some eye-popping species. (They’ll look even better in real life.)