People birding in a green space.

How to Start Birding

Everything you need to know to begin observing birds.

Are you ready to join the millions of people who enjoy birds?

If so, there’s no better time than the present to take the plunge—or at least dip your toes in. But wait. Where should you go? How do you even find a bird? Are there apps for that? (Yes, lots!) Do you need binoculars? (No, but they can make things easier.) Whether you consider yourself a birding novice or just curious about birds, this primer will walk you through the basics of birding. 

Start by finding some birds.

 Good news: Birds are everywhere! Some might be more common or obvious than others, but by merely noticing the birds already around you—their colors, their shapes, the fact that one of them has been singing outside your window at 3 a.m. for two weeks—is the first step into a larger world. The next step in your birding journey? Seeking birds out.  

How to Find a Bird
Two woopeckers pecking a tree with wooden chips around them
How to Find a Bird

No matter where you are, these four basic steps will make spotting birds easier.

Know where to go.

You don’t have to stray far from home to go birding—or at all. Heading to a nearby green space or open water source will surely turn up aa variety of species, but don’t overlook your own yard, the street trees on your morning run, or that noisy hedge next to your mailboxes. Read on for some pointers on the best places to find birds. 

Birds You Can See Anywhere
Ducks and Geese
Rock Pigeon
Pigeons and Doves
European Starling
Starlings and Mynas
House Sparrow
Old World Sparrows
American Robin
Canada Goose
Ducks and Geese
Northern Mockingbird
Mockingbirds and Thrashers
Mourning Dove
Pigeons and Doves
American Crow
Crows, Magpies, Jays

Try identifying a bird.

So you found a bird. Now what? Practice your observational skills. Notice what color the bird is, or how big it is, or what it’s doing when you find it. You never have to go any further than that in order to appreciate birds. But if you do want to learn how to identify birds or take up birding as a hobby, these observational skills are the foundation upon which everything else rests. Below is a basic primer into bird identification, and when you’re ready, be sure to check out our vast trove of ID tips and stories. 

Be aware of safety for you and the birds.

Birding can be an adventure, but it should never be reckless. Study the American Birding Association’s guidelines to help you minimize your impact on birds and other wildlife, and be sure you know how to keep yourself safe (see below). Finally, developing a quick pre-birding routine can save you a lot of pain in the long run: Check the weather, consider the sun and insect situation, and look up your local species occurrences prior to any outing.

Consider getting some gear.

Every hobby has its essential gear, and birding is no exception. All you need to get started is a field guide, a weather-proof notebook, and an easy-to-use birding app. If you want to take it to the next level, binoculars are a very useful tool. Here are our top picks to get you started below: 

Guides and Journals 

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. 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. 


The one piece of equipment that everyone asks about is binoculars. “Do I need them? And if so, which pair should I buy?” The short answer to these questions is, “It depends.” Binoculars are great tools for getting closer looks at birds. They come at a range of price points, but our recommendation is to save up until you can afford a pair in the $120 to $180 range, where the optics are good enough to enhance your bird-viewing experience, not hinder it.

For more information on birding gear, visit our Audubon Guide to Binoculars for the best bins in every price range!​

More Gear Advice

Join a birding 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.