How to Get the Most Out of Backyard Birding

Updated: May 7


Birds are often described as a universal treasure. People from all walks of life, ages (kids love birding too!), ethnicities, political affiliation, and socioeconomic status can enjoy and appreciate birds.


Spring migration is the pinnacle of birdwatching with hundreds of species dressed in their best plumage traveling to their summer breeding grounds: jewels in bright blues, reds, oranges, greens, purples, and yellows. Dapper birds in their black and white contrast. Songs that can heal the soul and bring smiles in these stressful times. This year, spring migration is different for us. Travel is discouraged, social gatherings are discouraged or outright banned. Parks are closed and viewing areas are off limits. Birds are still migrating though, and with a little luck and some patience you can still participate in this fun, easy, family friendly and educational experience in the safety and comfort of your own back yard.


How to Backyard Bird


All you need to enjoy birdwatching or “birding” is your eyes, ears and a view of the outdoors. Birdwatching is one of those amazing activities that you can spend thousands of dollars pursuing, or spend nothing and still enjoy. Below are some ways to make it more interesting, more educational, and a better experience for you and your family.


Zoom In


Birds can be pretty small, especially the tiny, brightly-colored warblers. Having some way to zoom in on an area can allow you to experience their beauty and interesting behavior in a little more detail. Binoculars are great for this, but so are cameras that can zoom in.


Get a Bird ID Guide


One of the best parts about birding is all the different types and species of birds you can see and hear. Identifying birds is like solving a puzzle and it can be a fun and competitive event or a collaborative effort. There is a wide variety of books and field guides that can be fun to flip through, but there are also phone apps like Merlin that includes a picture ID function that will identify a bird from your photograph.


Start a Species List


Part of the enjoyment people get with birding is “collecting” the birds they see. They do this by identifying them and then keeping track of the species and number of birds they see during a birding session. Some people create photo journals to track them. A notebook works, but there are phone apps like ebird.org that allow you to not only track your sightings, but see what other people are reporting and even help with citizen science!


Use a Camera


Many people enjoy just watching and listening to the birds, but most birders also like photographing them. You don’t need a super expensive camera to enjoy photography but a zoom lens and a fast shutter speed are important. Birds move a lot and most songbirds are small and active. They rarely cooperate by hanging out right in front of your window.


Grab a Comfy Seat


Birding takes patience! You have to wait for them. Look closely at bushes, the trees, and the ground for small movements.


Put out Attractants


Bird feeders, bird baths, and natural food sources for birds like berry bushes can all attract birds to your yard, increasing your chances of seeing more birds and more species of birds.


Join Birding Social Groups


Sharing your birding experiences, asking for ID help, participating in citizen science, and learning from others are all benefits of the birding experience. There are numerous Facebook groups for geographic areas that allow you to maintain physical distance but still enjoy a fun social experience. The Audubon Society has local chapters sprinkled all over that can be a great social outlet for birding. Sharing your bird photographs with friends and family online can spark conversations that about less stressful topics than the latest CDC update.


Know the Lingo


Birding, just like other activities, has its own terminology. Here are a few examples:


  • FOY (First of the Year): This means the first bird of that species that has been seen so far this year. Usually used during spring migration to help track birds as they reach the area during their migration.

  • Lifer: A lifer bird is one that is the first bird of that species that you have ever seen. Lifers are common when you first get started, but they become rarer the longer you bird. Many people have lifers that are like unicorns to them: seen by others, but hard to find.


Why Backyard Birding


Birds are an invaluable resource for humankind and human society. They provide stress relief, entertainment, eco-tourism, and natural pest control. Birds provide an economic boost through the sale of feeders, seed, birdwatching equipment, and photography equipment A rare bird can draw hundreds of people into an area from miles away where they will spend money on gas, food, and other supplies. They connect people who otherwise would not share social circles. They build wonder in children and adults alike.


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