For better or for worse, being a birder simplifies the process of gift giving for everyone else in your life. Whenever the holiday season comes around, every loving and well-intentioned aunt and uncle, in-law, parent, grandparent, and other gift-giver knows exactly what to get you: something with a bird on it.
Since I started birding, I’ve gotten everything with a bird on it that exists under the sun. Seemingly every product in the world that can be improved by the addition of a bird (usually a Northern Cardinal)—calendars, socks, shirts, stationery, greeting cards, photographs, gigantic heavy books, pens, keychains, mugs—I’ve unwrapped it.
I’m not complaining! It’s great receiving gifts of any kind. And I know how difficult it is to give good gifts, so I’m not trying to be ungrateful. It’s just that, well, birders don’t want that stuff.
Maybe some do, but I don’t. I’m a birder, but that doesn’t mean I want to be wearing a bird shirt and bird pants while writing about birds in a notebook covered with birds using a quill pen, you know? Here’s the key thing to remember: Birders want stuff for birding, not stuff with birds on it.
The gift giving will be just as easy, I promise. It’ll just take a teeny tiny bit of extra thought—and this helpful list of suggestions.
Before you get a gift for a birder, you need to know one thing: what kind of birder they are. Are they just starting out? Is he or she an expert, who chases birds around and keeps detailed lists? Maybe they’re feeder watchers, who enjoy bringing birds to the backyard. Maybe you misheard and they actually said they’re a “herder,” in which case you should just gift them one of those staffs with a hook on the end.
The Novice. Ah, those thrilling early days when the whole world is new and full of weird birds! Birding can be all-consuming at this stage; it has a way of grabbing your mind and not letting you think about anything else. When you’re just starting out, you only want two things: to see as many birds as possible, and to learn as much about birds as possible.
This makes field guides great gifts for novice birders. Many birders will get a field guide right away, but there is a lot of benefit in having multiple guides: more images, more tidbits, more angles. My favorite guides are from Sibley's series, but I also highly recommend the classic Peterson, the innovative Crossley, or the beginner-friendly Kaufman. Each of these books will stay in a birder’s library for years.
Birders are hungry for good optics at this point, too. The biggest upgrade a new birder needs is the only piece of equipment that matters: binoculars. This can be an expensive gift, I know, but your birder will be over the moon. I’ve used the same pair of Nikon Monarchs for my whole birding career, which are both excellent quality and cheaper than a lot of the other high-end binoculars. For plenty of good options, check out this site's new binocular guide.
(Just so you know, I am not getting paid by any company for endorsements. All these recommendations are from experience only.)
Something a bit cheaper for the novice birder in your life is one of those iPhone binocular adaptors for snapping pictures. I’ve used this Carson HookUpz one and liked it a lot. You can keep it with you when you can’t lug around your big camera for whatever reason, and bust it out when you need to get a decent, zoomed-in bird photo. For instance, I would have given anything to have it with me when I was walking home from work in DC and spotted some rare Lapland Longspurs on the National Mall. You just need to make sure that the person you’re giving the gift to has the right phone, which is annoying (the kids today with their upgrades!), but it’s a handy gift.
The Feeder. These are the bird lovers who are a little more relaxed. Most birders are like this, actually. A lot of the pleasure for these folks comes from attracting birds to the house. You'd better believe there are a ton of gifts for these people.
The first gift for the Feeder in your life is, uh, a feeder. There are tons of different bird feeders out there: ones that stick into the ground, ones that hang from trees, ones for finches, ones for hummingbirds. Unless your giftee is some insane bird-feeder person, there’s guaranteed to be a type of feeder they don’t have yet. Is there one that can catapult squirrels into the neighbor’s yard? If so, get that.
It’s the same thing with bird food. Backyard birders know how expensive it can be to keep their feeders filled, so getting the gift of seed or suet is really helpful. Here’s a handy guide from Audubon about the different kinds of seeds and which birds eat what.
Finally, food and feeders aren’t the only way to get birds into the yard. Get your bird-feeding friend a heated bird bath, and they’ll be your friend forever. Got a big pile of sticks in the backyard? Well, arrange them in your friend’s backyard and say: “Happy holidays, I got you a brush pile, perfect cover for sparrows and wrens!” Okay, that might be a little extreme, but at least you could get them this great book called Attracting Birds, Butterflies, and Other Backyard Wildlife, and they can make a brush pile of their own.
The Expert. These seasoned veterans are the toughest to get gifts for. They’ve got all the calendars and stationery already. They don’t need any more mugs. They’re probably even all square with binoculars, and so you should probably hold off there unless you’re ready to drop a couple grand on some Swarovski bins or a new scope. But listen, I can help.
Active birders are on the road a lot, often very early in the morning, and are usually eating on the go. Gift certificates to a local coffee chain or breakfast place—heck, even Starbucks and McDonalds—will be more useful than even the prettiest of greeting cards. Believe me.
If you want something with some more gravitas, try one of the advanced-level field guides out there. Some of my favorites include The Warbler Guide; Rare Birds of North America; and The Shorebird Guide. Expert birders also love non-birding guides, which help them make sense of all the other creatures they’re seeing once they get bored of easily identifying birds. The Kaufman Field Guide to Butterflies of North America is indispensable, and I also like the Sibley Guide to Trees and even the recent Bovids of the World. Plus, with that one, you get to say, “I give to you the gift of bovids,” which is just not something you get to say very often.
What about something cheaper but perhaps the most welcome of all, like a free day’s birding? I used to give my parents poorly made coupons for “One Free Room Cleaning” and stuff, so why not a coupon for a free day of birding? Tell the giftee that you’ll do the errands or deal with their kids for a day or whatever while they tromp around looking for rarities guilt-free. Birding time is what birders actually need most.
Also, gloves. Every good birder needs a good pair of gloves. I use ones like these.
All right, does that help? Those suggestions should help you get the perfect gift for the birder in your life, one they’ll actually use instead of just stuffing it in the drawer with all the other bird-stamped knicknacks. Happy holidays, everyone.