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.
2. Maven CS.1 Spotting Scope
Tracking a Short-eared Owl as it hunted at Red Rock Lakes National Wildlife Refuge was a breeze with Maven’s new CS.1 mid-range spotting scope. Weighing a little more than two and a half pounds, it’s easy to carry on the go, and our tester found himself reaching for it again and again over heavier, pricier scopes. The 15-45x magnification and 65mm objective lens strikes a nice balance between magnification and field of view.
Check out our top picks for scopes in a range of price categories: audubon.org/scopes
3. Rick Young Outdoors Basic Ultra-light Bino Harness
This simple, bare-bones harness offers wearers multiple ways to carry your optics. Our reviewers liked being able to switch easily between a chest harness configuration for longer walks and basic around-the-neck or chest setups for more stationary birding. “The best 30 bucks I spent all year,” said one tester.
4. PhoneSkope Digiscoping Adapter
The close-up view of birds that binoculars and scopes provide is immensely satisfying. This adapter lets you capture those intimate images with a smartphone; simply enter the make and model of your phone and your optics, and PhoneSkope delivers a phone case and optic adapter that are a perfect fit. Of all the adapters our tester has tried, the PhoneSkope is his hands-down favorite: “It fits perfectly, is sturdy, and great quality.”
Starting at $79; phoneskope.com
5. 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.
6. Canon EOS R5 Mirrorless Camera
Whether you’re a pro or a serious amateur photographer or videographer, the EOS R5 has a lot to like, delivering superb image quality and excellent video capture with its 45 megapixel full-frame sensor. Its ergonomic body design and Vari-Angle Touchscreen LCD are a boon for those out shooting birds, in sometimes awkward positions, for long stretches. Wildlife photographers will also appreciate the remarkable "Animal Eye" autofocus lock.
7. Sony Alpha a6400 Mirrorless Digital Camera with 55-210mm Lens and Accessories Kit
A great entry point camera for photo and video creators. With its 4k resolution this camera has impressive image quality and excellent noise reduction in low light. It also boasts good battery life, is compact, and is quiet when shooting. The accessories kit includes a Sony zoom lens ideal for bird photography and video; add a 16-50mm lens for versatile wider shots and vlogging.
8. 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.
9. OtterBox Fast Charge Power Bank
It’s so frustrating when you go to search a bird app or snap a photo, only to find that your phone died. OtterBox’s Power Bank stands out among portable chargers for two simple reasons: Its super-fast charging ability, and its ridiculously durable body—the synthetic rubber exterior stood up to harsh conditions and a few accidental drops onto rocky ground.
Starting at $35; otterbox.com
10. Goal Zero Yeti 200x Portable Power Station
No wall outlet, no worries. The small-but-mighty Yeti 200x features multiple outputs so you can charge an array of gadgets—laptops, mirrorless cameras, phones, and tablets—and the manufacturer says the power station’s 187 watt-hour capacity charges a smartphone 20 times. Looking to stay in the field for days on end? Top off the Yeti 200x via your vehicle’s 12v outlet, or use portable solar panels (sold separately) to power up off the sun when you’re off the grid.
Treat Yourself: We've completely redesigned our free Audubon bird guide app. Download today for access to profiles of more than 800 North American species and new features like Audubon Bird Alert.
11. PGYTECH OneMo Camera Backpack
The OneMo is extremely customizable and adaptable to whatever situation you might need it for. Our reviewer found that it comfortably fits two camera bodies, two to three lenses, and even a drone all at the same time—not to mention a laptop and the various other odds and ends you need while traveling with a camera. If you’re heading out for a daytrip and don’t need all that capacity, simply remove the sling pack to carry a camera body plus a lens or two. Fitting all your gear is just part of the equation: The OneMo is also extremely comfortable to wear even when fully packed, and the slick, black exterior won’t draw unwanted attention when traveling.
12. Sitka Bayou Blind Bag
Yes, that is a camera bag. “I love that it doesn’t look like a typical camera bag,” said our reviewer. “It doesn’t scream ‘Expensive camera here!’” Large enough to hold a DSLR camera, two long lenses, and a shotgun microphone, it’s also lightweight and offers excellent water protection. The only thing our tester found lacking was the absence of an outside pocket.
13. November Rain Poncho
Walking in the cold November rain is a delight in this poncho. Available in an array of colors and patterns, the lightweight waterproof exterior fends off the fiercest of downpours, while the soft polyester interior spares the wearer the cold, clammy feel of rubber. It has a removable hood and comes with a matching drawstring pouch. Not only will you look good in this poncho, your purchase helps do good: The company donates 10 percent of profits to clean water initiatives.
14. Outdoor Research Foray Rain Jacket
No dedicated birder is going to let a little—or a lot of—rain keep them from getting outside. This aptly named jacket stands up to harsh conditions encountered on ventures into the woods and along the coast. The Gore-Tex Paclite fabric staves off water and wind while being breathable and light, and the ventilation is superb: The Foray takes pit-zips to the next level, opening from bicep to waist, making it easy to release heat as you seek out avian quarry. And the jacket is rugged enough to withstand a little bushwhacking or brushing up against the occasional rock.
15. Patagonia Refugio Backpack
Versatility is the name of the game here. Patagonia’s most popular backpack is slim enough for a laptop-and-a-lunch urban commute but has plenty of volume to carry everything you’ll need for a morning of birding or afternoon hike. Our reviewer found the 28-liter Refugio more comfortable than a competitor’s pack at twice the price and was impressed with its quality and attention to detail, from the removable sternum strap to flexible side pockets that can handle just about any water bottle. The pack has a durable water-repellent finish and is made from recycled nylon and polyester.
16. Chrome Kadet Sling Bag
Our reviewer was skeptical of this sling, since it’s bigger than others she tested. Could it really ride comfortably for a full day of birding? Heck yes. The bag, with its padded strap, all but disappeared on her shoulder on a hike in the Rockies, where she clipped her bear spray to an exterior strap, stashed a bird guide, snacks, and a Platypus collapsible water bottle in the roomy interior sections, and still found room for her windbreaker when temperatures rose. What’s more, the abrasion-resistant 1050d nylon exterior has held up to abuse, and the lightweight aluminum buckle earned compliments on the trail.
17. Helinox Sunset Chair
Stash the Sunset Chair in your car; it folds down so small that you’ll forget it’s there—until you need it. It takes only a few seconds to set up and transforms into a comfy, high-backed chair with a detachable head rest. Looking for an even cushier seat? The Sunset can be converted into a rocking chair (rockers sold separately).
18. Yeti Hopper BackFlip 24 Soft Cooler
Soft coolers are all the rage, and with good reason: They’re light. What sets this one apart from the rest is the extra-long time it keeps food and beverages cold—you’ll be ready to leave the blind or the field long before the Hopper BackFlip starts to sweat. What’s more, it’s super comfortable to carry.
(Looking for something less robust and lighter on the wallet, yet still waterproof, durable, and easily transportable? We recommend the ICEMULE Jaunt, starting at $80.)
19. Stanley Classic Legendary Thermos
Hot coffee or tea never tastes better than they do outside after a bit of a walk. That goes double in winter. Stanley has been at it for a long time and knows how to keep hot liquids hot and cold liquids cold with vacuum insulation. They make a bottle that’s leakproof, sweatproof, and practically indestructible—while looking dang good. This one-quart thermos is a classic for a reason.
20. Audubon Hopper Bird Feeder
Grosbeaks, juncos, chickadees, and so many other birds can’t pass up this feeder. It quickly became a favorite of our reviewer, too, given how easy it is to refill: Simply turn the handle, lift, scoop, and fill with your favorite bird seed (we’re partial to the Audubon varieties), and then replace and turn the handle to lock it in place. Plus, of the half-dozen feeders that our reviewer tested, this is the only one that squirrels took no interest in: “It’s like it’s invisible to them.”
21. Patagonia Macro Puff Quilt
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 roughly queen-size blanket is made of the good stuff: toasty down-like PlumaFill synthetic insulation on the inside, and an outer layer that’s windproof and rip- and water-resistant. Our testers, who had a pile of blankets to choose from, frequently found themselves in a tug-of-war over who got this one (the quilt, if not the relationships, are no worse for the friction).
22. Audubon Sweatshirt
Your other sweatshirts will likely see little daylight when this one moves in—it quickly became our tester’s favorite. Made from cotton and polyester fleece, it’s durable yet incredibly soft and comfortable. The Cerulean Warbler shown here was created by Jersey City-based artist Shayna Marchese.
23. BlackAFInStem x Animalia Long-Sleeve Tee
Add an ethically and sustainably made long-sleeve tee to your winter wardrobe while supporting a more diverse and inclusive birding community. Sixty-five percent of the profits from your purchase will go to the BlackAFinSTEM Collective, a group working to continue the momentum from this year’s Black Birders Week by elevating and celebrating Black contributions to conservation, birding, and natural sciences.
24. LIVSN Flex Canvas pants
Even in the anything-goes days of quarantine when sweatpants became work-appropriate, these pants were comfortable enough to become a staple of our reviewer’s wardrobe. Made with organic and recycled materials, they’re plenty durable for all sorts of outdoor adventure and sufficiently stylish for casual office wear—bike commuters, check out the button for rolling up your pant legs—whenever offices are a thing again.
25. Voormi High-E Hoodie
If you want an insulating top that provides warmth but won’t hold you back, look no further than the High-E. Our reviewer reached for this hoodie year-round. The deep front zipper sheds heat, the balaclava-style, full-cover hood offers excellent protection from the elements, and then there are the thoughtful, subtle features—including the best thumbholes our reviewer has ever encountered and the ponytail pass-through. Bonus: The front kangaroo pocket fits a bird guide.
26. 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.
27. Oboz Bozeman Shoes
28. Danner Inquire Boots
For a hiking boot that ticks every box when the mercury drops, we suggest the Inquire. Our reviewer found them comfortable out of the box, raved about having warm, dry feet after hours on the trail, and noted that they paired perfectly with a cushy pair of Smartwool merino socks. “Overall a great cold-weather hiking boot!”
29. Lacrosse Aero Timber Top Shearling Rainboots
Traverse rainy, muddy trails with confidence in these cozy fleece-lined rainboots that boast great traction. They fit true to size and are lighter weight than many other rubber rainboots. On top of that, their shell is made from polyurethane, which transfers less cold than rubber, making them perfect for birding during weird duck season.
Arts and Entertainment
30. Audubon Bird Spotting Opoly Board Game
In the annals of board gaming, Monopoly is one of the most storied and spun-off creations. There’s seemingly a version for everything, and birding is no exception. In Audubon Bird Spotting Opoly the properties are species, the bills have bills, and when you head off to jail you’ve gone dipping. For bird lovers, the familiar game highs are much higher. You learn charming bird facts! Journaling and ID tips! And instead of sprawling housing developments you save up to buy actual nest eggs. But fair warning: As the game heads to its inevitable conclusion, you may hit a new low in the pursuit of your hobby—left crushed and destitute by the tyrannical landlord of a Tricolored Heron rookery.
31. Audubon Jigsaw Puzzles
Audubon’s 1000-piece songbird puzzles are a unique way to appreciate subtle field marks and sharpen bird identification skills from the comfort of your living room. Sorting through and organizing the colors and textures of avian images is a surefire way to train your brain to remember attributes of the featured species. And with the absorbing focus required to complete a puzzle, you may even forget about the 2020 news cycle for a few hours—and have a pretty new piece of birdy art to admire when you’re done.
Starting at $16; masterpiecesinc.com
32. 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.
33. Audubon’s Tern the Page Book Club
Dive into truly avian-oriented “page-terners” with the Audubon Society. The organization’s monthly book club for bird enthusiasts runs from January through April, and includes monthly book picks by renowned writers such as J. Drew Lanham and Scott Weidensaul, author talks, and exclusive online content. Sign up by December 15 to ensure the first book, Birds of Maine, by Peter V. Dickery, arrives before the holidays
34. Vesper Flights
For lovers of birds and literature, it’s hard to imagine a book published in 2020 that will beat Helen Macdonald’s Vesper Flights. In this collection of essays, the famed author of H Is for Hawk ruminates about migration, climate change, and the myriad birds and animals she encounters as a lifelong naturalist. During a season that many of us will spend at home, exploring the natural world through Macdonald’s keen observations and lyrical prose is a wonderful alternative to the real thing.
35. What It's Like to Be a Bird
Every birder is familiar with David Allen Sibley’s beautifully illustrated field guides. So one might expect that there’s little in the avian world that would surprise Sibley at this point. Not so, he explains in the introduction to his new book: “A bird’s experience is far richer, more complex, and more ‘thoughtful’ than I’d imagined.” Essays are organized by bird type, and every page features at least one gorgeous, informative illustration. Each essay stands alone, but all are interconnected—providing a deeper understanding of avian evolution, instinct, and survival—and helpful cross-references suggest which page to flip to next. Settle in and hop-scotch your way through the engrossing tome.
36. Spectacled Bear Conservation Felt Toys
Help conserve the habitat of the spectacled bear, the only wild bear species in South America, and many other wild animals with the purchase of these 100 percent wool toys handmade in Peru. The Burrowing Owl is definitely our favorite. Except that the Scarlet-banded Barbet is so cute. Then there’s the Bald Eagle. And the pangolin. And, of course, the spotted bear! With so many adorable options to choose from, why pick just one?
Starting at $16.50; spectacled-bear-conservation.myshopify.com
37. The Lost Spells
In 2017, Robert Macfarlane and Jackie Morris captivated people around the globe with their poetry and illustrations of the natural world in The Lost World. The duo is back again, charming readers with The Lost Spells, reminding us, with rich illustrations and prose that demands to be read aloud, of the enchanting natural world around us. From tales of swifts and woodpeckers, of foxes and snow hares, this sumptuous book is one that readers young and old will savor. “There has always been singing in dark times—and wonder is needed now more than ever,” Macfarlane writes. “Let the wild world into your eyes, your voice, your heart.”
38. Audubon Birding Adventures for Kids
“What kind of crows always stick together? Vel-crows!” A corny animal joke never fails to draw in children of all ages, and Audubon Birding Adventures for Kids knows it. The book peppers bird jokes throughout profiles of 25 common species along with field marks, cool facts, and conservation notes. Parts read as more aspirational than age-appropriate (“How you can help” the Turkey Vulture: “Support lead-free ammunition”) but overall the book pursues a fun and thoughtful approach to hooking kids on birding and conservation. The second half is chock-full of bird games and activities (some basic, some more complicated) designed to take advantage of both the great outdoors and indoors. Kids can pick and choose their adventure and still walk away with a deeper understanding of birds and how to help them.
Ages 8-12; $20; indiebound.org
39. Junior Ranger Starter Kit
Expand the horizons of young adventurers with a Junior Ranger Starter Kit from America’s National Parks. Each kit includes a pin, patch, medallion, stickers, a Junior Ranger edition of the National Parks Passport, and a book to inspire future journeys. Proceeds go toward education and preservation programs at national parks.
40. 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.
41. Audubon Birds Page-A-Day Calendar
From Emperor Penguins lining up to a White-necked Jacobin closing in on a flower, find a new favorite bird every day with this calendar, which features photographs of birds around the world. The new eco-friendly design means the calendar and its packaging are now completely plastic-free, and the reverse of each page is handily designed as graph notepaper.
42. Royal Robbins Bug Barrier Venture Crew Socks
Our mosquito-magnet tester wore these socks for nearly every outing this summer and fall. The Insect Shield® treatment provides invisible and unscented protection from biting bugs. The socks are constructed from recycled polyester and hemp, and comfortable to boot—with a seamless toe and fine mesh ventilation that keeps feet cool.
44. TinyHouseBigWoods Greeting Cards
Send a handmade hello with one of these cards featuring Laurel Mundy’s vibrant paintings of North American birds, from Cedar Waxwings and Northern Flickers to Belted Kingfishers and Sandhill Cranes. The back of each card contains information about the natural history of the featured species, and each illustration is printed on 100 percent recycled paper and comes with a 100 percent recycled envelope.
Starting at $4.50; etsy.com
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.