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A bird being looked at through a pair of binoculars

One of many people's greatest pleasures in life is birdwatching. This entry will serve as a short introduction to this popular hobby.

To get started, first go down to the local bookshop and purchase a birdwatcher's field guide for the local area or country. Take the book home and study it, paying particular attention to the type of birds expected to seen in the immediate vicinity. Once a few birds are instantly recognisable, those that are different will stand out that little bit more.


What equipment is needed? First, binoculars; 10x50, 10x40, or 8x30 are the best. Do not go for more powerful binoculars. They are too heavy to carry around for a long period of time, and will not give better views of the birds. Smaller ones will not give the views of the birds needed for accurate identification.


Do not wear bright colours. The birds will see these coming from miles away and will fly away. The sensible thing to do is wear dark greens/dark browns. These colours will 'blend in' and partly hide any approach to where the birds are. Wear stout shoes or boots, as walking over rough terrain is probable, for which sandals or trainers are no use. Take waterproofs as well. A wet birder is an unhappy birder. Also, carry a small pocket notebook or pocket recorder to note down what has been seen, and the description of those birds that cannot immediately be recognized. Do not take field guides out into the field. While searching through it for one bird, half-a-dozen others may have passed by and have been missed. When noting down descriptions, take down as much detail as possible. Most importantly, where was it, what was it doing, how big was it, what shape was the bill, what time of year was it, and any colours/features that stood out.


Take the field guide out at home and start to eliminate all the birds it could not be. If the bird had a large curved beak and was tearing lumps out of some small rodent, then around 90% of the field guide can be eliminated. It was neither a duck nor a finch. Similarly, if it was swimming about on a lake or river, it was hardly likely to be a raptor, unless it was in big trouble. Elimination is the watchword that helps to discover what has been seen. It will not be a winter visitor in the middle of July. Nor will it be a summer visitor in the middle of December (unless the birds are being studied in the Southern Hemisphere, where seasons are reversed).

Just take time and trouble and make comprehensive notes. When all but a couple of pages of the field guide have been eliminated, stop and think again. Thinking again about where it was exactly will help. Some birds are very localised, and will not leave a specific location. A few British examples of this as follows; the Crested Tit is only found in the northern pine forests of Scotland; the Dartford Warbler is only found in the New Forest/Isle of Wight areas; the Golden Eagle is only found in the Scottish Highlands and the Lake District of England. None of the aforementioned birds move from their chosen habitat. Once the elimination procedure is completed, identification should be easy.

Why Birdwatch?

Part of the fun in birdwatching is keeping year by year records of the trends in bird populations. If accurate figures of the species seen are kept, these can be passed on to the local ornithological society, who will be interested in monitoring these trends. Birdwatching is also a very healthy activity, with lots of fresh air to be had and lots of walking to be done.


Birdwatching has its own terminology. A 'Birder' is a person who goes out birdwatching. A 'Dude' is a posh birdwatcher who will only go out if the weather is good, and usually carries a little seat with him/her to sit on while birdwatching. A 'Tick' is what is gained when a particular bird is seen. A 'Twitcher' is someone who is so obsessed with birds that they will travel hundreds of miles a year just to get one more tick than the previous year. To 'Dip-out' is to miss a specific bird you were looking for. To be 'Gripped-off' by other birders means a good bird has been missed!


All activities have rules to be adhered to. Birdwatching is no exception:

  1. The bird and its nest is the prime consideration. Do not let curiosity interfere with this.

  2. In the breeding season, listen for warning calls from the adults. Do not stray near the nest.

  3. Do not walk over shingle where ground nesting birds breed in colonies.

  4. Take litter home with you.

  5. Always get permission from the farmer or landowner before walking over private property.

  6. Make as little noise and disturbance as possible.

  7. Do not advertise the fact if a rare breeding bird is found. Tell the local society of it only.

  8. Do not take bird eggs. This activity is against the law and is punishable in the UK.

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