If there’s one essential tool for birders, it’s binoculars. But with so many models on the market, it can be daunting to find the perfect pair. Whether you’re a novice looking for your first set of bins or an experienced birder looking for an upgrade, we cover excellent options for every budget in our Audubon Guide to Binoculars. audubon.org/binoculars.
Sometimes binoculars just don’t cut it. They’re splendid when birds are nearby, but when you’re after a glimpse of shorebirds pecking along a distant mudflat or a kettle of hawks circling hundreds of feet in the air, a spotting scope, with its far greater magnification, is eminently superior. The top picks from each price category in our Audubon Guide to Scopes are all waterproof and fogproof, and produce bright, crisp images, allowing you to focus on the fine details of distant quarry. audubon.org/scopes
3. Snapzoom Universal Binocular Tripod Mount
If you're looking for a way to steady your binoculars—whether you're birding out your kitchen window or digiscoping in the field—Snapzoom has you covered. Simply strap your bins onto the tripod mount, and enjoy a shake-free view.
4. Op/Tech Reporter/Backpack System Connectors
Wearing a binocular harness and a backpack is so cumbersome—so many straps. These connectors attach the shoulder straps on a backpack with binoculars or a camera. Voila! No neck pain, no hassle.
5. Sony A9
Sony has broken new ground on the autofocus capabilities of a mirrorless camera. The A9’s AF system includes 693 phase-detection points that cover 93 percent of the image area. Its lightning-fast and accurate focusing, combined with light weight (1.48 lbs), 20 frames-per-second, and silent shutter make it a superb, state-of-the-art camera for quick-moving, flighty subjects.
6. Canon 7D Mark II Camera
This model is often used by entrants to the Audubon Photography Awards. With its 10.0 frames-per-second cycle and the clearest HD technology that Canon has produced to date, it’s easy to see why it’s popular with bird photographers.
Deal alert! Thanks to our friends at Canon, Audubon members now have access to a special portal featuring exclusive discounts on new and refurbished photography equipment that can't be found anywhere else. Use code AU548D91BN to register for discount portal access here.
7. Induro CLT104 Stealth Carbon Fiber Tripod
This impressive tripod weighs only three pounds and is rated to hold gear up to 30.9 lbs. It comes with a long and short center column, and each leg has four sections, twist leg locks, and foam hand grips. Included are interchangeable rubber feet and stainless steel spikes, a toolkit, and a carrying bag with shoulder strap.
8. Jobu Jr. 3 Gimbal Head
Gimbal heads allow photographers to track birds on the wing while providing steady support for their camera and lens. At 1.4 pounds, the Jobu Jr. 3 is half the weight of many others, and almost half the size. But don’t be fooled by the petite package. This small but mighty gimbal will support up to a 500mm f/4 lens.
9. Nikon MC-DC2 Remote Release Cord
Reduce camera shake by remotely operating your shutter with this 3.3-foot-long remote release cord. This device is excellent for low-light, long-exposure shots, and works with most Nikon DSLR’s and Coolpix models.
10. Hex Glacier Camo Back Loader DSLR Backpack
This 20-liter backpack is slim and lightweight, without sacrificing protection for your camera gear. The easily accessible top zipper makes pulling a camera out of the pack a breeze; our tester appreciated not needing to unzip the entire back of the pack to access his gear. He also lauded the comfort and breathability of the mesh back, numerous pockets and configurable partitions, and water-resistant exterior. And it doesn’t hurt that it looks cool, too.
11. Gregory Nano 20
Carry everything you need for a day of birding in the Nano 20. An array of stretchy outer pockets are perfect for stashing a water bottle, field guide, or jacket, and make for quick retrieval, and the 20-liter capacity feelsroomy. While our female reviewer appreciated the extra support provided by the removable hip belt, our male reviewer found the hip-belt webbing not quite substantial enough. Both, however, praised the breathable back panel and comfortable shoulder straps.
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12. Victory Project Fanny Pack
Some days you just don’t want to lug around a backpack. The Victory Project sling is ideal for those shorter hauls through the park. It’s got enough space to fit sunscreen, a wallet, phone, and sunhat, while also being stylish and waterproof. The numerous interior pockets keep things organized, and a locking attachment prevents your keys from tumbling out when you grab your phone to log a sighting on eBird. All Victory Project bags are made in the United States from upcycled textiles, have easily adjustable straps to fit all kinds of bodies, and can be worn as either a sling or fanny pack.
13. Platypus DuoLock Soft Bottle
It can be daunting to sift through all of the water bottles on the market, but this collapsible one rises to the top. The built-in clip makes it easy to attach to a backpack strap, its slim profile means it fits into most airplane seat pockets, and when empty it flattens and rolls, saving space. Our reviewer swears by the dual-lock cap: In months of near-daily use, she hasn’t suffered a leak. The bottle is BPA-free, BPS-free, and phthalate-free, and dishwasher safe.
14. Costa Ocearch Remora sunglasses
The Remora’s excel in diverse settings, from the open ocean to mountain trails. Despite the dark lens tint, they performed well low light conditions such as midday cloud cover, and delivered remarkably true hues. They were our tester’s only sunglasses for two weeks of travel, and he found them light and comfortable while chasing after birds, hiking, and navigating New York City’s concrete canyons. Sales of the Ocearch collection help fund marine conservation.
15. Hillsound Flex Steps Crampons
Our reviewer summed these up in four words: “I feel like Spiderman.” Snow and ice pose no obstacle to traversing even the steepest of slopes with these light, easily donned cleats. The stainless steel, 1/4-inch spikes deliver a durable grip: After weeks of use during a Montana winter, they showed no significant wear.
16. Helinox Camp Chair One
Forget sitting on the ground during your next avian stakeout. This two-pound chair comes with its own sleek carrying bag, assembles easily in seconds, and supports up to 320 pounds. For those looking to trick out their chair, Helinox offers an array of accessories, from a ground sheet that prevents the legs from sinking to a foam headrest.
17. Outdoor Research Women’s Apollo Rain Jacket
Fall and winter birding—in North America and beyond—means occasionally braving bad weather. Outdoor Research’s Apollo jacket is a great option for protection against rain and wind in warm or cool conditions. The extra-long sleeves and long torso will not ride up when you’re stretching to look at overflight geese and ducks, and the Velcro wrist closures prevent rain from finding its way down your arms. The extra-large hood can cut down on lateral visibility, but it’s great at keeping water off of your face.
18. Sea to Summit Ultra-Sil Nano Tarp Poncho
The light-but-mighty Ultra-Sil Nano stands up to the elements in myriad ways. It’s an excellent poncho—roomy enough to cover your backpack—that does double duty as a groundsheet. Made of 15D Ultra-Sil Nano rip-resistant fabric, it weighs a mere eight ounces and packs down small enough to slip into a pocket, where you won’t remember it’s there until you need it.
19. Patagonia Capilene Air Hoody
If you want an insulating top that provides warmth but won’t hold you back, look no further. The merino wool/recycled polyester blend stretches but doesn't stretch out and breathes remarkably well, and the cowl neck transforms effortlessly into a balaklava. The waffle-knit material also delivers serious odor resistance: After a couple of weeks of essentially living in this garment, it was only a hot cocoa spill that finally compelled our tester to toss it in the wash.
20. Icebreaker Merino 200 Oasis Leggings
There are several products made with merino wool on our list, and for good reason: its thermo-regulating, moisture-wicking, odor-stopping, and sustainable properties. These merino leggings won’t restrict your movement and are a light-yet-durable base layer for all seasons: They keep you warm in when it’s chilly outside, and offer excellent wicking when the mercury rises. Available in women’s and men’s versions.
21. Toad & Co. Re-Form Flannel Shirt
Look sharp and stay warm while birding in this fetching flannel shirt, which is made of 60 percent recycled cotton and 40 percent recycled polyester (read: salvaged cotton textiles and post-consumer plastic bottles). It’s the flannel trifecta: soft, sustainable, and stylish.
22. Danner Arctic 600 Side-Zip Boot
Our reviewer has a firm rule on hiking boots: No zippers. Aesthetically, they just don’t do it for him, and functionally, a good lace-up is all you need. So he was skeptical about Danner’s new waterproof Arctic 600, which have a zipper closure tucked on the inside ankle. Yet once he'd laced up the heavy-duty winter boots, they felt sturdy and secure. More importantly, after several multi-hour tests on chilly East Coast days, he was pleasantly surprised by their overall comfort, warmth, and the traction of those thick Vibram soles. And when he got home, a quick zip was the only thing between his feet and freedom—no messing with laces.
23. OluKai Hoʻōpio Aeʻo Sandals
“Supportive flip flops” might sound like an oxymoron, but our reviewer raved about the strong arch support these sandals provide. The water-resistant, synthetic-leather straps were a bit tight at first, but loosened up just the right amount after a couple of hours, and the sturdy rubber outsole provided serious grip. A subtle laser etch on the foot bed depicts the ae‘o, Hawaii’s endangered stilt, nodding to the fact that these sandals do more than look sweet on your feet. Every OluKai purchase benefits the nonprofit Ama OluKai Foundation, which works to preserve Hawaiian ecosystems and culture.
24. Audubon Flyway Expedition
Holbrook Travel partnered with Audubon to provide guided birding trips to Latin America and in the Caribbean. The destinations are all bird hot-spots where Audubon and its international partners carry out vital conservation work, from Belize to Paraguay. (For those who prefer to plan their own adventure, the Audubon International Alliances program provides suggested trip itineraries to Guatemala and Colombia, and a list of local guides for hire in the Bahamas, Belize, Guatemala, and Paraguay.)
From $2,550, holbrooktravel.com
25. Eagle Creek Cargo Hauler Duffel
Our reviewer was initially skeptical of this duffel. Is it really better than other duffels out there? Heck yes. For one thing, the 60-liter version devoured a week’s worth of clothing and still fit in the overhead bin. Our reviewer’s favorite features include the thoughtful pocket placement and size, the seemingly superfluous but actually quite useful handle on every side, and added versatility of backpack straps. For those who'd rather not carry their duffel, Eagle Creek also has a wheeled version.
26. Cotopaxi Teca Windbreaker
On any birding adventure, it’s a good idea to toss a windbreaker in your bag. The Teca isn’t just any regular wind-blocking layer: It’s made from remnants of polyester taffeta, meaning that the material is high-end and repurposing those swaths of cloth keeps them from going to the landfill. The Teca’s durable water repellant (DWR) coating protects from light precipitation, and it weighs a feather-light 4.5 ounces. Our reviewer praised its large pockets and wind-stopping ability, and more: “It’s warmer than you’d think it would be,” she said. “And obviously very stylish.”
27. XtraTuf Women’s Fishwear 15-inch Legacy Boot
These fully waterproof kicks are sturdy, stylish, and foldable, taking up minimal luggage space. They kept feet completely dry while traversing slushy slopes and splashing through puddles and muck, and they’ve got great grip on wet surfaces. Available in men’s versions, too.
28. Grayl Geopress Water Purifier
Go in search of birds anywhere without worrying about the state of your drinking water. Whether you’re filling up at a river or tap, this purifier will remove viruses, bacteria, silt, and heavy metals. Simply fill, press down the filter, and in about 10 seconds you’ll have 24 ounces of potable water in hand. The replaceable cartridge is good for 300 uses, and you can feel good knowing that you’re reducing your plastic bottle use.
39. Pelican Go G40 Personal Utility Case
The last thing you want to worry about on that pelagic birding cruise or just a regular rainy morning is your smartphone getting soaked. Keep your phone, credit cards, cords, and more secure in this waterproof—and seemingly indestructible—container, and give your full attention to your avian pursuits. Comes with Pelican’s lifetime guarantee.
Arts and Entertainment
If you unwrap one gift early this holiday season, let it be Wingspan—the acclaimed board game is the perfect family activity. Up to five players compete to attract common and rare birds to their wildlife sanctuary, working to accumulate food, lay eggs, and make smart resource tradeoffs. There’s a bit of a learning curve, but as you absorb the rules, you’ll be distracted enough by gorgeous avian illustrations on each of the game’s 170 unique North American species cards. Each includes a fun fact about the species, plus biologically- and game-relevant information, such as its preferred habitat, food source, and a behavior. And while you definitely don’t have to be a bird nerd to enjoy Wingspan, it certainly doesn’t hurt either.
31. Gang of Warblers
For the past five years, murals of climate-threatened bird species have stopped New Yorkers in the streets as part of the Audubon Mural Project. Now one of the most arresting works, George Boorujy’s “Gang of Warblers”, is available as a limited-edition, signed print on archival paper. It features five warblers facing the world head-on, as tough guys, Boorujy says—“because they are tough guys. These little birds make massive migration journeys, some almost inconceivable for creatures so small.” Proceeds benefit the Audubon Mural Project.
32. A Season on the Wind
Kenn Kaufman lives on the west end of Lake Erie, where the pull of spring brings millions of passerines and other birds to his doorstep. The naturalist, artist, and Audubon field editor delves into this annual arrival in his excellent new book, exploring the mysteries and marvels of the migrants, the threats they face, and the humans drawn to them. In one passage it's the vanishing Rusty Blackbirds that flock to the meadows near his home. In another it's the quirky crowds of birders that buzz down the Magee Marsh boardwalk during the annual Biggest Week in American Birding. While the book is rooted in Ohio, Kaufman paints migration as a ritual without limits. As each chapter escapes into the unknown—the stamina of godwits or the synchronicity of warblers—he circles back to our narrow understanding of the birdsand their behaviors. By doing so, he makes a strong case for scientific research and conservation. If we don't keep questioning and gathering knowledge, he asks, how will we ever help birds grapple with the changes we've created?
33. How to Do Nothing
Artist and critic Jenny Odell’s ambitious book isn’t about birding per se. But it’s not not about birding. Arguing that our attention is our greatest modern resource, Odell weaves together strands of culture, history, philosophy, and her personal experience and applies the lessons to our social media-fueled, late-capitalist age. Where we choose to spend our attention, or withdraw it, has the power to reshape our lives, communities, and societies—and she turns, throughout, to her own avian hobby to make her point. To Odell, sitting on a bench and watching for birds is far from doing nothing: It’s a determined act of focus that roots her to the natural world, in a specific time and place, and galvanizes her desire to conserve it.
34. Netflix Subscription
Give the bird-lover in your life access to an array of extraordinary nature documentaries with a Netflix subscription. The streaming service offers classics like Planet Earth, as well as its own films, such as Dancing with the Birds (above), a fascinating 50-minute look at avian mating rituals. Now that’s quality time in front of the tube.
35. Macaulay Bird Sound Subscription
Buying a field guide to identify birds by sight is standard operating procedure for any birder. But to really learn how to bird by ear, nothing quite beats having an extensive library of birdcalls to guide the journey. The Macaulay Library, which is managed by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, has more than 283,000 audio recordings for 9,922 bird species. But of most use to birders in North America is the Essential Set for North American Birds: 1,379 audio files of 729 species.
36. Ten Birdy Children’s Books
Glowing screens might captivate young minds, but nature is the ultimate entertainer. The 10 books described in our recent roundup—including Ruby’s Birds, pictured above—offer unique perspectives on real-life drama that unfolds in nature every day, sometimes right outside your window. Perusing their pages, kids will enjoy a range of avian-inspired tales, from the joy of the Christmas Bird Count to the story of a wind-blown Whimbrel.
37. Hog Island Camp
Audubon’s Hog Island camp was voted the second best summer activity in Maine (after Camp Firewood, of course). There are 10 different sessions to choose from, covering everything from field ornithology, to coastal studies, to arts and birding. Book one for a teen, a teacher, or an entire family.
Ages 8 and up; $900-1,200, hogisland.audubon.org
38. The Audubon Birdhouse Book
Most people catch the birding bug in their own backyards, learning the names and watching the behavior of the avian visitors outside their window. Putting up a birdhouse can provide a variety of species with a home, and it gives the kids the opportunity to intimately observe the goings-on of their feathered neighbors, rather than catching fleeting glances. This DIY guide contains easy-to-follow directions, allowing novice woodworkers to build birdhouses for more than 20 North American species, from wrens to raptors.
39. Three Blue Birds Swedish Dishcloth
We admit it: The delightful bird designs are what initially drew us to these dishcloths. But what kept us reaching for them time and again was their superior performance. They’re ridiculously absorbent, and our reviewers found themselves forgoing sponges and paper towels in favor of these dishcloths. What’s more, they’re inherently eco-friendly—made from 70% cellulose from FSC-certified forests and 30% cotton, and screen printed with water-based ink. The company says the dishcloths will last 200 trips through the dishwasher or washing machine (our reviewer saw no deterioration after a dozen washings) and that they’re entirely biodegradable.
40. Audubon Birds in the Garden Calendar
Each month, feast your eyes on a different bird-and-plant pairing, from a House Finch sampling spring buds to a Great Tit balancing on a mushroom in autumn. The pages also include tips on backyard bird feeding, natural history about the pictured species, and more. Printed on FSC-certified paper.
41. Beef Raised on Bird-friendly Land
This year, sate your giftee’s appetite and conscience with bird-friendly beef. Unlike most meat, grass-fed beef raised on land certified by Audubon’s Conservation Ranching Program improves prairie habitat for birds while sequestering carbon. Program participants like Root Cellar and Blue Nest Beef sell boxes of the good stuff online, and from the latter you can purchase a gift card so your friend or family member can order up to three boxes with the cuts of their choice.
Visit audubon.org/meat for a full list of retailers.
42. GoSili Reusable Straw
Every year some 8 million metric tons of plastics make their way into the ocean, posing a deadly threat to seabirds and other marine life. This 100% silicone reusable straw aims to help stem the tide. It comes in three lengths, a range of vibrant colors, and is dishwasher safe. Silicone is remarkably durable, but if a GoSili straw wears out, consumers can simply send it back to the company for recycling.
43. Darn Tough Treeline Micro Crew Cushion Socks
Treat your loved one’s feet to these warm, durable, cushy socks. Made with eco-friendly, moisture-wicking merino wool, they’re designed to provide ultimate comfort for hours on the trail, so birders can keep the focus on their quarry, without fretting about bunching or blisters. What’s more, like all of the company’s products, they come with an unconditional lifetime guarantee.
44. Adopt a Bird
The Northern Cardinal is just one of several species available for adoption from Audubon—an ideal gift for helping the avian aficionado on your list do her part for birds and their habitat. Each proud parent receives a plush bird that plays a recording of its song when squeezed, as well as an adoption certificate and a personalized letter from Audubon CEO David Yarnold.
Our reviewers field test everything that we feature, and we never get paid to endorse any product. Much of the gear here comes in quieter hues to help you blend into the background and increase the odds of adding more birds to your list.