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How to be a birdwatcher in four easy steps

Updated: Jul 8, 2022

  1. You don't have to spend a lot of money to become a birdwatcher, or birder. It's helpful to have a camera (a smartphone will do), a pair of binoculars, and a birdwatching manual. I have an ancient copy of Birds of North America by Chandler S. Robbins (still my favorite bird book), National Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Birds, and Hansen's Field Guide to the Birds of the Sierra Nevada by Keith Hansen.

  2. For on the go birdwatching, download the Merlin app for your phone and add the bird packs for your region. As a Nevadan, I use the Rocky Mountains and West Coast packs. To use the app, from the home screen you click on "Start Bird ID" if you don't have a photo of the bird, or "Photo ID" if you do have a photo. Follow the prompts and identify your bird. This is really fun to use, because you build a "Life List" of all the birds you've seen. It won't be long before you will feel like you're pursuing your own "Big Year!"

  3. Find places in your area where birds congregate. Bodies of water are always great places to spot birds, including ponds, lakes, streams, rivers, and beaches. One of the bonuses of birdwatching is it gets you outdoors, and long hikes are the perfect opportunity for spotting new species. You can even plan road trips to include birdwatching opportunities. We captured the bald eagles below next to a stream in Toiyabe National Forest.

  4. If you're on Instagram or Twitter, there is a huge and flourishing community of birdwatchers and bird photographers on these platforms. It's fun to share your photos and get feedback from other enthusiasts.

Here are a few of my favorite captures. It's such a thrill to spot a bird you've never seen before, and if you're lucky, get that perfect pic before it flies away! Pictured below, left to right in rows:

  • Bald eagles, Black-crowned Night Heron, Red shouldered Hawk

  • Mallard Duck, Northern Flicker, Great White Egret

  • American Kestrel, American Avocet, Tundra Swans

  • Female Mallard with ducklings, Lesser Goldfinch, Steller's Jay

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