Bird watcher's guide
Birdwatching is a relaxing hobby that anyone can do and it doesn’t have to cost a thing. Here, we investigate some tips and tricks to maximise your chances and learn about some bird species to keep an eye out for.
Benefits of Birding
Bird watching provides a means to explore and learn about the natural environment. In many ways, birding is a logical extension of hobbies such as bushwalking and kayaking which also get you outdoors.
Tuning in what animals such as birds are up to requires engaging all your senses. To observe birds requires carefully listening, sensing movement or scent, as well as looking. Bird watching can therefore act as a way of practicing mindfulness.
Often the best way to observe wildlife is simply to sit still and wait. You may be surprised what species may visit your garden or neighborhood when you simply stop long enough to observe. By slowing down and spending time in nature you may begin to attune your senses and notice the way that rushing past can cause wildlife to rush away and hide.
A good pair of binoculars really helps to increase your chances of seeing birds up close without disturbing their natural behaviour. This can allow you to view them for longer and in more detail than with the naked eye. As such you may get to view different behaviour and you have a better chance of positively identifying the individual species. There are many styles to choose from, so it’s important that they are comfortable and simple to use. A good pair usually costs $100 to $200and should last many years if you take care of them.
- Field Guide
A field guide is essential to increase your repertoire of known bird species. They provide detailed illustrations and information on bird plumage, habitat, behaviour, vocalisations and distribution. This information allows you to quickly identify new species as you see them.
A range of field guides are available depending on your location, with national, state and regional guides offered. You can usually pick them up from local bookshops or op shops. They are an invaluable resource for novice and expert birders alike.
- Notepad and pen
Although not a necessity, taking a notepad and pen is a good way to jot down notes and help to remember the recorded bird species for next time. You can write down a detailed description of the bird, where it was located and what it was doing. This gives you important information for when the bird flies off, allowing you to take your time to go through your field guide and get a positive identification. As you become more experienced, your notes will become a useful resource, providing a good insight into where birds have been spotted and the types of habitats they prefer.
A camera can be a great way to get some memorable shots which can also be a big help with identification. The camera app on most smartphones can autofocus and even track a subject. But for more precision and power, there are a range of digital cameras to suit your needs and budget. Photographs can be compared with illustrations and photographs in field guides and on the internet.
- Start out small
Try to become familiar with the birds that live in your garden or local park before branching further out. In this way, you will soon become aware of the range of common species associated with each site, seasonal changes throughout the year, the breeding residents, regular migrants and occasional visitors. With practice, you will begin to recognise different species, and eventually, you will notice that each has its own way of life. By gradually expanding your horizons, and birdwatching in new places, you will slowly but surely expand your repertoire.
- Install a birdbath
If you can, consider installing a birdbath. If space is limited, get creative. Place one on your balcony or in your courtyard. Not only will you be helping out our precious birds when water is scarce but you will get so much enjoyment from watching what is going on. Baths can be situated where birds socialise as keeping clean is just as important as drinking. Consider putting a range of baths at different levels around your garden. You don’t need a fancy bath, a pot or saucer will do nicely. It can take time for birds to discover your birdbath, but once they know it is an established water source and frequently refreshed, they will come to rely upon it.
As cats are a big risk for birds while bathing, consider elevated or pedestal baths near plants where smaller birds can go for refuge if disturbed. Stones or rocks in the centre of the bath can give smaller birds such as wrens and thornbills a place to perch while bathing.
Like all bathrooms, birdbaths need to be cleaned regularly as a dirty bath can spread disease. To clean your bath, scrub it well with disinfectant soap then wash it out to ensure no residue is left behind. Then top it up and place it in direct sunlight, nature’s disinfectant!
- Be quiet
Stay still and keep an eye out for moving branches. Try not to shift your gaze too quickly or too often. Birding takes patience and persistence.
- Get out just before dawn and dusk
Timing is everything. In general birds are going to be much more active at the beginning and end of the day. Getting out early allows you to witness birds as they are beginning to forage and feed. It can be extremely peaceful to be out exploring at the quietest time of the day. Just don’t expect the birds to keep quiet!
Part of birding that is often overlooked, especially by beginners, is listening. By actively paying attention to the vocalisations of birds you can learn to identify the presence of birds in the field without actually seeing them. Birds have a vast range of calls and many of them can be extremely distinctive and unique to a given species. A quick search online will let you know what calls our local birds make. By learning even just a few simple calls, you will open up a whole new world of birdwatching.
Find out more about Birds in Sydney | NSW Environment and Heritage
Last Updated: 20 March 2023