Birdwatching, twitching, birding, or amateur ornithology can be a casual and unexpected enjoyment, as well as an ambitious pursuit to see the most unusual species.
|“||A bird does not sing because it has an answer. It sings because it has a song.||”|
Ideally, you want quite a long lens to photograph small or distant birds, a fast lens for stop-action shots and/or shooting in low light, and autofocus for tracking birds in flight. Image stabilisation is also useful if you shoot hand-held. A lens with all those features will be both expensive and heavy, but various compromises are possible.
- Notebook or computer
- Sound recording equipment, if you want to record bird songs. You usually need a strongly directional microphone.
- Telescope and support such as a monopod or tripod (optional, but usually necessary for areas where birds may be far away)
- field guide
However, none of this equipment is essential if you simply want to observe birds with the naked eye and listen to their songs, and you can always take pictures or videos of birds that are not too timid around humans by using a cell phone.
On the site
The early bird is a well-known idiom. Birds are usually most active at sunrise.
Minimize sound and motions, to avoid disturbing the birds. Most birds see better than people do, and probably see you before you see them.
Many bird sanctuaries are in difficult terrain; wetlands, rocks or shorelines. Be sure to find safe ground, or a safe vessel.
Bird flu, or more formally avian influenza, can infect both birds and mammals. Fewer than a thousand cases have ever been reported in humans, but some of them have been fatal. Most have involved people who work with poultry, but there is also some risk to birdwatchers. The main transmission methods are by contact with dead birds or the wastes of live ones; avoid those and you should be safe. For more information, see the World Health Organization page on the topic.
Birdwatchers can attract birds by handing out feed. This is controversial, as birds can get malnourished (especially their chicks), migratory birds can be lured to stay for too long, and the feed can attracts rats and other pests. In cities birds used to being fed can be intimidating. Cities and national parks might prohibit feeding. Feeding is common practice at some locations, but doing it right is fundamental to avoid problems. Prefer feed that is part of the birds' natural diet, instead of processed food, such as bread. This is critical for young birds; those that mostly eat bread, might become dangerously malnourished. Use a feeding table or other surface which keeps land animals away. If you put the feed on the ground, get it out in the morning or at least well before sunset, so that the feed is consumed by the birds before darkness. In regions with birds migrating away in autumn, do not feed them when they should leave.
Winter feeding allows sedentary birds to survive until spring. However, it soon makes them dependent on the feeder; winter feeding is a commitment which you should maintain throughout the season, or avoid from the beginning.
You can always observe and listen to the birds that live in your home town or wherever you are visiting. Many birds live in urban and semi-urban environments, including some that sing exquisite songs, such as the Eurasian blackbird, which has a wide range that includes the largest cities in Northern Europe and sings for several months of spring and summer, during its mating season. American robins also sing very pretty and varied songs, though not to the degree that Eurasian blackbirds do, and they are common in many US cities including New York City, particularly in parks. And even protected species are not always hard to spot; for example, if you are visiting the coast of California, you are likely to see pelicans and other large sea birds that are not at all reticent to be around people.
Birds such as pigeons and sparrows might prefer cities; however, many people regard them as pests, rather than living attractions.
Migratory birds can often be seen in great numbers where they wait for good weather to cross large bodies of water, or wait out a prolonged winter at higher latitudes. Capes stretching out into the water and wetlands in the vicinity are often good places to look for migrating birds. These places are usually well-known by local birders and not hard to find information on. Sometimes there is infrastructure, such as bird towers.
Quite often, merely a trip to a decent-sized urban park with a lot of foliage is sufficient to observe many migratory birds in season. However, for advanced birders, some of the bird sanctuaries and habitats below can be a special experience.
- See also: Eurasian wildlife
- 4 Camargue, France. The Rhône delta.
- 5 Danube Delta (Romania). Great flocks of pelicans and a myriad other wading birds
- 6 Outer Hebrides, Scotland. Full of migratory birds.
- 7 Hornborgasjön, Falköping, Sweden is famous for the mating dance of cranes (Grus grus) in spring.
- 8 Faroe Islands
- 9 Heligoland, North Sea, part of Germany. Crowded by birds.
- 10 Istanbul, Turkey. Some might be surprised to hear that the birdwatching opportunities abound in this city of 10+ million people. Since the migratory birds prefer to fly over land instead of large expanses of water, Istanbul is on a site that most migration routes between Europe and Africa converge. The easily accessible Çamlıca Hill on the Asian Side of the city is a great location to spot them, especially during the autumn migration.
- 11 Karlsöarna, Sweden
- 12 Öland, Sweden; especially Öland's southern point is frequented by migratory birds to or from the Nordic countries
- 13 Rügen, Germany
- 14 Skomer, Wales
- See also: Wildlife in South and Southeast Asia
- 15 Dr. Salim Ali Bird Sanctuary near Panaji, India
- 16 Karnala Bird Sanctuary in Konkan, India
- 17 Keoladeo Bird Sanctuary in Bharatpur Division, India
- 18 Ranganthittu Bird Sanctuary in Mandya, India
- 19 Khijadiya Bird Sanctuary near Jamnagar in Gujarat, India
- 20 Keenjhar Lake, Pakistan
- 21 Kumana National Park, Sri Lanka
- Nakdong River Estuary Migratory Bird Sanctuary in Busan, South Korea
- 22 Qinghai Lake in Qinghai, China, mainly for migrating water birds
- 23 Olango Island in the Philippines
- 24 Izumi crane migration grounds in Japan
- See also: North American wildlife
- 25 Sierra Vista in Arizona. "the hummingbird capital of the world"
- 26 Kelleys Island in Ohio. A haven for migratory birds in Lake Erie.
- 27 Frank Lake Alberta. An important Canadian location for bird nesting.
- See also: Australasian wildlife
The exotic fauna of Australia includes birds that visitors from the rest of the world may not have seen. Even in central Sydney, you may see and hear white ibises (colloquially called as bin chickens), sulphur-crested cockatoos and laughing kookaburras.
Native birds, some of which are neither exotic or flamboyant but nevertheless interesting, are watchable from a range of locations in Australia known as "Bird Observatories." What was originally the Royal Australian Ornithological Union, but is now called Birdlife Australia, has observatories at:
- 28 Lake Eyre National Park, South Australia
- 29 Great Australian Bight
- 30 Broome Bird Observatory, Broome. The Broome area boasts a list of around 300 bird species, the most famous being the migratory waders that visit Roebuck Bay over the summer and then depart for Siberia to breed during the southern hemisphere winter.
- 31 New Caledonia
- See also: Central and South American wildlife
- 32 Iguaçu Falls (Brazil/Argentina). The area around the falls is home to hundreds of species of birds, and on the Brazilian side is a bird park where you can see lots of them.
- Peru is the homeland of the mighty condor.
- Galapagos wildlife
- RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch (any garden or park in the United Kingdom). Last weekend of January, annually. Nationwide survey carried out on behalf of the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds. Take a flask of tea and spend an hour watching birds and other wildlife in your nearest greenspace. The goal is to record how many individuals of a particular species you see at any one time. Download a recording sheet beforehand, then submit your results to the RSPB's website. Similar surveys are arranged in other countries. Free.
The leave-no-trace principle is important for birdwatching.
Travellers can be tempted to gather remnants such as egg shells or feathers; however, this behaviour may unintentionally disturb birds and in many countries it is illegal to do so. Also, bird flu can be transmitted by contact with dead birds or the waste of live ones; the risk is small in most areas, but best avoided in any.
The use of pre-recorded audio lures or mimicked bird calls/a "pish-pish-pish" noise (colloquially known as "pishing") in birdwatching is as controversial a topic as any. The safety and well-being of any bird being pished should always be considered, and once the bird has appeared in view all pishing activity should cease. If you are in a group, it is advisable to ask before pishing a bird as some birders disagree with the practice.
Traditionally, pishing is done by a person simply keeping still and making a soft "pish-pish-pish" noise hoping to attract any curious birds nearby. Small birds can be attracted in this manner. Another pishing technique involves mimicking a specific bird's call, such as the distinctive "HOO-hoo" call of a cuckoo or drumming on a tree to imitate a woodpecker. Modern technology, however, has introduced the use of pre-recorded audio lures that anyone with a smartphone can access. This has led to an increase in people engaging in pishing, some of whom do not understand the possible repercussions such as causing birds to waste energy in seeking a perceived intruder. Pre-recorded audio lures should be used sparingly in all instances.
Pishing near nests or during the breeding season should only to be undertaken for scientific purposes and not for "getting a better look/photograph". Disturbing breeding birds is illegal, not to mention immoral and against the general ethics of birdwatching.