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. Vortex Car Window Mount
As experienced birders know, a vehicle can make an excellent blind, allowing you to observe shorebirds, waterfowl, and other species without spooking them. Once you find your quarry, the 12-ounce Vortex Summit mount lets you to watch with ease: it’s compact, flexible, and works with most any scope or binoculars.
4. Phone Skope Digiscoping Adaptor
The close-up view of birds that binoculars and scopes provide is immensely satisfying. This adaptor lets you capture those intimate images with a smartphone; simply enter the make and model of your phone and your optics, and Phone Skope delivers a phone case and optic adapter that are a perfect fit.
Starting around $75, phoneskope.com
5. 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.
6. 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.
7. 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.
8. PGD Tracker
The Tracker is essentially an external sight mount that enables you to keep fast moving subjects in the frame without having to look through your camera's viewfinder. Thoughtfully designed, the mount allows for precise and repeatable mounting of the sight to a camera hot shoe. Built in the USA using the highest quality structural and UV resistant plastic, the Tracker is strong and rigid yet weighs a mere ounce.
9. Bird PhotoBooth 2.0
Take advantage of the flurry of avian activity your native plants and feeders attract with this wireless 4K motion-activated camera. It lets you remotely view, photograph, and film birds in real time.
10. Jackery Bolt 6000 Portable Charger
It’s always frustrating when you go to search a bird app, or snap a pic, only to find that your phone died. The Jackery Bolt stands out among portable chargers for two simple reasons: It’s lightening-quick charging ability, and its built-in cords, which mean you never have to worry about forgetting or untangling cables again.
11. Black Diamond Spot
This is Black Diamond’s most popular headlamp with good reason: It offers 200 lumens of brightness with its wide, battery-powered beam. And at 3.2 ounces, it’s so small that you might forget you’re carrying it—until you need it.
12. Leather Wingman Multi-tool
With fourteen collapsible tools, this shiny piece has Tim Taylor and Les Stroud written all over it. There are screwdrivers, pliers, and files galore, but it’s the wire stripper and high-carbon combo knife that really make it kickass. Get it engraved (for an additional fee) to add a personal touch.
13. Mountainsmith FXpedition Monopod
This compact-yet-sturdy trekking pole does everything you’d expect, and then some. It’s collapsible, durable, and beneath the removable handle cap is a 1/4-20 SAE threaded bolt to attach a camera weighing up to three pounds.
14. Pelican Soft Cooler
It might seem unlikely that a company renowned for its tough cases would make a soft cooler. But Pelican’s soft cooler is remarkably durable, withstanding abuse on the beach, in the forest, and a park sidewalk. Our tester was also impressed with the leak-proof zipper and easy-clean interior when a misaligned lid caused a jar of salsa to explode inside.
Starting at $230, pelican.com
15. Rumpl Fleece Puffy Blanket
Birders should always have a blanket in the car, whether to wrap around them while using their vehicle as a blind, or to toast up after an outing. This blanket is made of the good stuff. One side is plush moleskin fleece, it’s filled with the same high-quality synthetic insulation used in super warm jackets and sleeping bags (and made from recycled bottles); the other side’s ripstop nylon cover resists tears, stains, and odors, so go ahead and use it outside the car, too.
16. Patagonia Micro Puff Hoody
“Can a jacket this light really keep me warm on a 15-degree day?” wondered our tester. Heck yeah. Feather-light, it’s filled with PlumaFill synthetic insulation that provides down-like warmth. It even held heat when a sudden downpour permeated the rip-resistant, water-resistant, windproof shell.
17. Outdoor Research Ascendant Hoody
A jack of all trades, master of most. A stretchy ripstop nylon shell and lightweight breathable Polartec fleece lining make this a go-to on any cool day, whether you’re birding on the breezy shore of Jamaica Bay or hitting the trail in search of Bohemian Waxwings. It sheds light rain and blocks wind except on truly cold, windy days.
18. Toad & Co Debug Sport Hoodie
Keep bugs and harmful rays at bay with this lightweight, UV-blocking shirt. It’s treated with Insect Shield® Technology, providing invisible and unscented protection, and constructed from polyester yarn made from recycled coffee grounds.
19. Manzella All Elements 5.0 Gore-Tex TouchTip Gloves
Nothing threatens to cut a cold-weather birding adventure short like cold hands. These gloves offer just the right amount of mobility for handling binoculars or entering ebird sightings on a smartphone, while being plenty warm and weatherproof.
20. Fits Medium Hiker Merino Socks
It’s all in the name for these do-anything, made-in-the-USA socks: They simply feel—and fit—better than the competition. The medium weight hiker has just the right amount of padding and warmth for a fall day spent watching migrating waterfowl along Montana’s Missouri River.
21. Glerups Slipper Shoes
Some of the most enjoyable winter birding can take place at your kitchen table, watching finches, chickadees, and woodpeckers feasting at backyard feeders. These cozy slippers—made with 100-percent wool uppers colored with dyes free of heavy metals and toxins—are soft, itch-free, and the rubber sole ensures you won’t slip when you pop outside to restock the suet.
22. Oboz Bridger Insulated Waterproof Boots
These kicks have all of the benefits of hiking boots, including excellent support and cushioning, with added elements that make them ideal for winter: 200g 3M™ Thinsulate™ insulation and an outsole made of rubber that can withstand cold, icy, and slushy conditions.
23. National Parks Annual Pass
This is the real golden ticket, Charlie: It grants unlimited access to 2,000 of America’s most stunning natural areas for an entire year. That’s a whole lot of bang, for not a lot of buck. What’s more, the National Park Service celebrates its centennial birthday next year, so there’ll be all sorts of free, fun, and educational festivities, too.
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. Tortuga Outbreaker
Carry your home on your back wherever you go with this do-it-all travel bag. Made from durable and water resistant sailcloth, this pack is unquestionably one of the most comfortable and best-organized travel bags out there. The shoulder harness and hip belt make it seemingly weightless, even after hours of wear, there’s plenty of room for clothing, and numerous pockets fit a laptop, tablet, books, and other travel necessities. Augmented by a foldable daypack he stashed inside, our tester lived out of this bag on a three-week trip to Europe.
Starting at $269, tortugapacks.com
26. Sunski Plover Sunglasses
Just like the bird they’re named after, these sunglasses are light, strong, and built for the sunny, windy conditions of the beach. The glasses come with polarized lenses and a lifetime warranty, and Sunski is a member of 1% for the Planet, ensuring that sales support the environment.
27. Pacsafe Hoodie
You’ve seen them (or maybe you are one): Vest-wearing birders who cram the pockets with everything they need for a day in the field. Consider this deceptively sleek sweatshirt as a cooler-weather alternative: Its 12 strategically placed pockets can hold a bird guide, notebook, phone, wallet, light, snack, and more, without weighing you down.
28. LifeSaver Liberty Bottle
Never fret again about whether water is safe to consume. The Liberty contains an inline pump that removes 99.9 percent of viruses, bacteria, and cysts, and light enough to carry comfortably in a daypack.
Arts and Entertainment
29. Birds of Puerto Rico Print
Bird-ify any wall with these colorful avian portraits and help the people of post-hurricane Puerto Rico at the same time. Artist Meryl Rowin donates all profits from this 8x10” matte print to the Hispanic Federation & United for Puerto Rico.
30. Planet Earth II
The sequel to the Planet Earth series is just as spectacular as the first. It’s also packed with intimate glimpses at birds across the planet, from the mating rituals of the Red Bird-of-Paradise in the jungles of New Guinea, to Carmine Bee-eaters searching for insect prey in the grasslands of Botswana, to the harsh conditions at world’s largest penguin colony on the Antarctic island of Zavodovski.
31. The Naturalist's Notebook
What does every budding naturalist need? A little instruction, a lot of time, and a journal that's a delight to page through. The Naturalist's Notebook offers all that: The first half is packed with whimsically illustrated primers that invoke Henry David Thoreau and Florence Augusta Merriam Bailey, while the second is entirely dedicated to recording personal anecdotes, broken down by season.
32. Birding Without Borders
Forty-one countries, 100,114 miles, 6,042 species. That, in a nutshell, is mega-birder Noah Strycker's 2015 Big Year, in which the 31-year-old Oregon native traveled the globe to see 5,000 different birds in 365 days. From slippery Harpy Eagles in Peru to exploding whales in Tawain, Strycker recounts all the colorful details in his mesmerizing new memoir. (Read an excerpt here.)
33. The Wonder of Birds
This engrossing, wide-ranging book explores humans varied and ancient relationship with birds. In smooth prose and with captivating storytelling, Jim Robins carries readers through topics ranging from how birds draw us into nature to how they’ve influenced everything from human flight to our understanding of language.
34. Aves Uncaged Playing Cards
Add an avian flair to your poker table or Spades quartet with these stunning playing cards, which are Bicycle branded and printed by USPCC. Each card features a beautiful hand-illustrated bird.
35. Giant Owl Kite
Sporting a 5.5-foot wingspan, this nylon and fiberglass Barred Owl is larger than life. The kite’s ripstop material allows it to face up to 18 mph winds, making it perfect for any trip to the beach or any grassy knoll.
Ages 8 and up; $35, winddancekites.com
36. Audubon Purple Martin House & Sunflower Suet Feeder
Martins, woodpeckers, and nuthatches won’t be able to pass up these outdoor ornaments. The suet feeder is easy to install, and brings a pop of color to a winter-worn yard, while the birdhouse makes a great springtime bonding activity. Kids will love getting an up-close look at native birds.
Ages 3 and up; $230 for the house, woodlink.com; $18 for the feeder, amazon.com
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. Laws Guide to Drawing Birds
Help kids get an early start sketching—an invaluable way to learn birds—with this marvelous instructional book. The full-color guide offers novel array of tips that are easy and rewarding to follow, and is sure to captivate youngsters and adults alike.
Turn your young birder loose with Eagle Optics Kingbird binoculars ($57; 6.5X32), which are compact, lightweight, and have good optical quality; Celestron’s Nature DX ($120; 8x32) are a solid choice for older kids—the glass is exceptionally good for the price, making them useful into adulthood and serious birding pursuits.
40. Bird-friendly Maple Syrup
A little something sweet never go amiss, and the maple syrup producers who collaborate with Audubon Vermont are working to ensure sugarbush habitats are sweet spots for songbirds, including Scarlet Tanagers, Wood Thrushes, and Black-Throated Blue Warblers.
$4 and up, audubon.org/maple
41. Charley Harper Coasters
Coasters are, of course, intended to protect your table. But a bird-lover might be reluctant to put anything atop these squeal-worthy mats. Don’t worry—the absorbent stone-topped, cork-backed disks can take the abuse. And besides, each time you lift your coffee mug you’ll get a fresh look at these adorable avian families.
42. Seed Pod Birds
Shaped from the pods of the star chestnut tree, these figurines might have been made by elves. They actually come from Zimbabwe, where local families harvest seeds, paint them, and pose them around galvanized wire. The collection includes African species like the Secretary Bird, the Crowned Crane, and the Hoopoe.
$35 and up, alternativesglobalmarketplace.com
43. Flamingo Tote Bag
Here’s a flamingo that’ll put its neck out—to go shopping. This 14-by-15-inch canvas tote is screen printed on one side, with the bird’s nape arching up to form the handles.
44. Duck Stamp
These miniature works of art have a big impact. The annual U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's Duck Stamp Contest is the only federally mandated, juried art competition. Hunters are required to buy the stamp, adorned with the winning artwork, to obtain a license, and birders can use it to gain entry to all National Wildlife Refuges. The vast majority of the funds generated—98 cents of every dollar—go toward conservation.
45. Gift Membership to Audubon
And finally, a fabulous bonus gift suggestion. An Audubon membership is ideal for helping the avian aficionado on your list do her part for birds and their habitat. Members receive one year of the spectacular Audubon magazine, invitations to local birding and community events, the latest avian news, opportunities to voice their support for protecting birds, and more.