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.
If you're in search of bins fro kids: 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 children—the glass is exceptionally good for the price, making them useful into adulthood and serious birding pursuits.
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. Aquapac Mini Phone/GPS Case
The last thing you want to worry about on that pelagic cruise or rainy morning is your smartphone getting soused. Keep your tech secure in this waterproof container—which allows you to use your device without removing it and exposing it to the elements—and give your full attention to your avian pursuits.
8. 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.
9. 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.
10. Osprey Daylite Sling
Our reviewer was skeptical of this sling. It only weighs a half-pound, and has such a slim profile: Could it really do duty for a full day of birding? Heck yes. On a hike in the Rockies she stuffed her vest into the outside mesh pocket when temperatures rose, and the inside pocket fit a bird guide, snacks, and a Vapur collapsible water bottle. But what really sold her on the sling was the comfort—the bag disappeared on her shoulder.
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. Kahtoola Nanospikes
Snow and ice pose no obstacle to birding with these light, easily donned cleats. The tungsten carbide spikes are small but mighty: After three months of use during a Montana winter, they showed no significant wear.
13. MSR Lightning Explore Snowshoes
Get off the beaten path and go in search of birds on snowy winter days. These snowshoes are a breeze to put on, and remain comfortable after hours of wear. Plus, they’re quiet—so the birds won’t hear you coming.
14. Engel HD30 Waterproof Soft Sided Cooler
Soft coolers are all the rage, and with reason: They’re light. What sets this one apart from the rest is the extra-long length of time it keeps food and beverages cold—we’re talking days in hot temperatures. It’s also comfortable to carry, either with tote handles or the single padded strap. And if you want to crack open a cold one at the end of a long day in the field, there’s a built-in bottle opener.
15. Kammok Field 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 does quadruple duty: The inside is lined with soft DWR microfleece; the back is made of a waterproof ripstop shell that resists tears and stains; an inconspicuous opening in the middle allows you to slip it over your head and wear it as a poncho; and, last but not leaset, the reversible stuff sack has fleece on one side, so it doubles as a pillow.
16. OtterBox Elevation 20 Tumbler
Birders aren't afraid of an early alarm. They also aren’t afraid of a little morning pick-me-up. This 20-ounce tumbler keeps hot beverages hot for hours, is durable, comes in an array of colors, and fits into a vehicle cup holder. To ensure you can always get your fix, pair it with the French press top (currently 50% off with the purchase of a tumbler).
17. Outdoor Research Tantrum Hooded Jacket
On any birding adventure, it’s a good idea to pack a windbreaker. The Tantrum isn’t just any regular nylon windbreaker; made of 20D mechanical stretch nylon, it’s got plenty of give, allowing a far greater range of motion. It doesn’t shed water, but it does breathe remarkably well, weigh a mere five ounces, and pack into one of its pockets.
18. Audubon hoodie sweatshirt
Your other hoodies aren’t going to like it when this sweatshirt moves in—it’ll likely become your favorite. Made with eco-friendly materials such as recycled polyester and organic cotton, it’s durable yet incredibly soft and comfortable. So comfortable that our reviewer might have worn it for five days straight. She’s probably still wearing it now.
19. prAna Lybek Flannel Shirt
Look sharp and stay warm while birding in this handsome flannel shirt. Made of 100% organic cotton, it’s cozy and yet stands up to cool temperatures. As our reviewer put it: “This is my new go-to shirt this winter.”
20. Trew Weightless Nuyarn Merino T
There are several products made with merino wool on our list for good reason: its thermo-regulating, moisture-wicking, odor-stopping, and sustainable properties. This merino base layer is a light-yet-durable shirt for all seasons: It keeps you warm in when it’s chilly outside, and offers excellent wicking on hot days. Available in women’s and men’s versions.
21. Duckworth Vapro 3/4 leggings
For bottoms that provide warmth but won’t hold you back, look no further. The merino wool blend doesn't stretch out, and the three-quarter length means you won’t be grappling with material bunching around your ankles. Available in a men’s version, too.
22. Forsake Range High Boots
Transitioning between a day in the woods and dinner out? No problem. These kicks have all of the benefits of hiking boots—including excellent support, cushioning, and a waterproof/breathable membrane—with the stylish flair of a sneaker. Bonus: Forsake partners with Carbonfund.org to offset its energy use, and mails all shoes via UPS carbon neutral shipments.
23. Stegmann Original 108 Wool Clogs
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 slipper-shoes are made with a soft, itch-free wool blend atop an anatomically contoured cork sole. And the contoured latex bottom helps ensure you won’t slip when you pop outside to restock the suet.
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. Cotopaxi Allpa
This deceptively sleek carryon fits a week’s worth of clothing, ensuring you can hit the trail with no lost-luggage delays. Our reviewer’s favorite features include the ample organization provided by the interior mesh compartments, the seemingly superfluous but actually quite useful handle on every side, and the sizeable pocket accessible from the exterior. The pack might look too pretty to handle abuse, but it’s made from is made from durable TPU-coated 1000D polyester that withstood harsh conditions on the Portuguese coast. Both the 35-liter pack and the smaller 28-liter version come with a rain fly, so weather is no excusing for slowing down.
$220, 35L; cotopaxi.com
26. Eagle Creek Borderless Convertible Carryon
This pack was inspired by and designed for National Geographic Explores, and it shows. Whether used as a roller or as a backpack, it has enough space to fit everything you need for a rugged long weekend away, and the durable, weatherproof Tarpaulin material holds up even in the harshest environs. Our tester tried it on Eastern Egg Rock, a small island off the coast of Maine where Atlantic Puffins nest, and it withstood rocky terrain, rain, windy seas—and guano. So much guano.
27. Audubon Glass Bottle
Flaunt your affinity for Audubon with this chic bottle. The 17-ounce, borosilicate glass container does more than just make you look good—it does good by helping to keep plastic waste out of our oceans, where it poses risks to seabirds.
28. The North Face Homestead Twin 40/4 Sleeping Bag
Dream of fresh pine forests, Western Tanagers, and Steller's Jays while snuggling up in this cocoon decorated with the artwork of Cornell Lab of Ornithology muralist Jane Kim. At a little more than three pounds, this sleeping bag is filled with insulation made of 30-percent recycled materials and will keep you toasty in temps just above freezing. And it offers more than warmth: touch-through mesh pockets for tech, zip flexibility, and a matching backpack-style compression sack.
29. CGear Sandlite Mat
This is not your grandma’s beach blanket. It borders on the magical: Sand on the surface slips through the weave, and none of the persnickety stuff wiggles its way back up. The superlight, soft mat is ideal for a day at the beach, whether you’re scanning the water for skimmers from the coast or a spending hours on your belly in the dunes, waiting for that perfect plover photo.
Arts and Entertainment
30. 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.
31. 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.
In this diverting new memoir, Christopher Skaife regales readers with tales about caring for the famous corvids at the Tower of London. From flock-based feuds and blood-soaked dog biscuits to Black Widows and fatal prison breaks, the book puts the corvids' antics on the same stage as the Tower's gruesome history. With birdy charisma comes drama, and with drama comes an adventure that only a Ravenmaster can write. Read an excerpt here.
33. The Feather Thief
No one appreciates a luxurious, ornate feather more than a birder. No one, except maybe a fly fisher. The fascinating, obsessive practice of tying high-end flies can consume not just individuals, but entire institutions. That's the crux of Kirk Wallace Johnson's gripping true story about Edwin Rist, a young prodigy in both the orchestral and fly-tying communities whose greed got the best of him when he stole millions of dollars’ worth of bird skins from the British Natural History Museum at Tring in 2009. Read an excerpt here.
34. Gulls Simplified
For even accomplished birders, if there’s a blank spot in their avian knowledge, chances are, it’s gulls. As Pete Dunne writes in the intro of this fantastic new guide he co-authored with Kevin T. Karlson: “So daunting is this family that one accomplished field trip leader of my acquaintance, a person who can identify any North American warbler in three notes or less, categorically asserts: ‘I don’t do gulls.’ ” After spending some time with this guide, chock-full of colorful photos and instructive captions, that person would likely change his or her tune. Gulls Simplified is an accessible, informative, and even humorous guide to identifying these wide-ranging, wily birds.
35. 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.
36. 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
37. 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. For more birdhouses, feeders, and accessories, visit the Audubon Marketplace.
Ages 3 and up; $230 for the house, woodlink.com; $18 for the feeder, amazon.com
38. 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
39. Seven Birdy Books for Kids
Glowing screens might captivate young minds, but nature is the ultimate entertainer. The seven books described in our recent roundup—including Natural World, 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 learn that not all bird feet look the same; that IDs should be fun, not daunting; that even animals have frenemies; and that the beach is a thriving world of its own.
40. 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.
41. 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
42. John James Audubon Coasters
The life-size watercolors in John James Audubon's Birds of America are a portal into the natural world. Bring that beauty into your home with these four-inch square, cork-backed coasters. The ceramic miniature works of art come in a set of four. Thirsty for more? Pair them with the matching coffee mugs.
43. Smartwool Merino 250 Cuffed Beanie
This lightweight hat delivers heavyweight warmth. Made from 100% merino wool, it’s comfy, not itchy, and the roll cuff offers extra coverage for your ears when the mercury drops.
44. Sockwell Women’s Nouveau Moderate Graduated Compression Socks
These are not your grandma’s compression socks—and we’re not just talking about the art deco motif. From the seamless toe closure to the built-in arch support to the graduated compression leg, these socks, made from eco-friendly materials including merino wool and bamboo rayon, are designed to provide ultimate comfort. And it doesn’t hurt that they look cool, too.
45. Sea Bags Tote
Think the Adelie Penguin on the outside is cute? Wait until you see the entire colony printed with eco-friendly ink on the inside. The tote is made from recycled sails collected from Maine boaters, all materials come from the United States, and, like each of the company’s bags, was designed and sewn in a building on the Portland waterfront. The bag isn’t just charming: It was created with care, and designed to last.
46. Seirus Xtreme All Weather Gloves
Nothing threatens to cut a cold-weather birding adventure short like cold hands. These fleece-lined, form-fitting gloves offer plenty of mobility for handling binoculars or entering ebird sightings on a smartphone, while being windproof, waterproof, and breathable. And, of course, warm.
47. 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.