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Bird Watching Basics

As we slowly ease our way out of the dog days of summer, there’s no better time to join the more than 47 million Americans who spend their leisure time with their heads in the clouds. Well, technically in the trees. We’re referring to bird watchers, a passionate community dedicated to one of the most relaxing, conservation-friendly outdoor pastimes that nature has to offer. Find out more about bird watching basics, then strap on your own binoculars and join in the fun.

Bird Watching Basics

What Is Bird Watching?

Bird watching, or birding, is the act of observing wild birds in their natural habitats. Dedicated bird watchers spend time observing, identifying, and understanding birds and their unique antics all over the country (and the world). If you’re interested in bird watching but aren’t sure where to start, rest easy: There are over 800 species of birds in North America, so it should be easy to find dozens of fascinating species right in your own backyard.

Benefits of Bird Watching

Bird watching is an increasingly popular pastime, and it’s not hard to see why:

  • Fun: Bird watching is a fun, satisfying way to connect with the wonder of nature. Birders also get to enjoy the satisfaction of hunting for and identifying new bird species. The Audubon Society explains that, once you get started, birding is nothing short of addicting.
  • Health: Birding requires moving around to scout out bird species, making it a great way to increase the number of steps you get in a day. Birding is also a fairly effortless way to exercise, as your attention will be on the birds and not your pedometer.
  • Community: Birding is a great way to connect with children and grandchildren, as well as a broader social community. Birders are famously welcoming, so it should be easy to find a positive bird watching community in your area.

Bird Watching Materials

You don’t need a lot of expensive equipment to get started as a new bird watcher. Well-known birder Diane Porter, who runs a popular website for birders, recommends a few items as part of her bird watching starter kit. That includes pair of binoculars, a good field guide, a hat, and a notebook to jot down observations. For more information before you set out on your first bird watching expedition, consider subscribing to a magazine like Bird Watcher’s Digest.

Getting Started

After you’ve gathered your bird watching materials, you’re almost ready to immerse yourself in the bird watching community. There are just a few things you’ll need to do beforehand:

  • Find your territory: Not sure where to start in your community? Any open green space or water source is a safe bet. Birding is something you can do in a local park, nature preserve, or even your own backyard. If you’re planning a trip to another region, you can also look for birds in different environments. Sites like eBird have easy maps to help you find a bird watching hotspot near you.
  • Study best practices: Make sure you study the American Birding Association’s set of guidelines to practice responsible bird watching, keep yourself safe, and minimize disruptions for the native wildlife.
  • Exercise common sense: Finally, make sure to check the weather and pack accordingly before heading out on a bird watching expedition.


Bird watching is an easy pastime to adopt, but there are a few bird watching basics you need to understand before your first expedition. If you’re not sure where to begin, resources like The Audubon Society have handy guides, maps, and more. And if you’re located in Tennessee, check out the Bird Watcher’s Digest roundup of the state’s best bird watching areas.

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