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Tips for beginners

People often start birdwatching in their own garden, and indeed this can be a very good place to start - assuming you have one of course. If you feed the birds regularly, it can be surprising how many different birds turn up. However most birdwatchers sooner or later want to see more than just the birds on their bird-table. But finding and identifying new birds can sometimes be frustratingly difficult. Here are a few basic tips.

  1. Firstly, visit a selection of different habitats. Woodland, farmland, reed beds, fresh water, estuaries, sea cliffs, lowland heath, moorlands etc all have their own characteristic birds.
  2. Make sure you have a reasonable pair of binoculars. You certainly don't need top-of the-range kit to start with, but bargain-basement optics are likely to just cause frustration. If funds are limited, you will do much better with mid-price binoculars alone than with cheap binoculars plus a cheap telescope. See the main FAQ optics section for further assistance.
  3. Get out early in the day - this is when birds are most active. In general, the warmer the weather the more important it is to get out early. (This is however less important for birds such as waders, which follow the rhythm of the tides).
  4. Get out every month. Thanks to migration there are different birds to see in each season. But also the resident birds are easier to see in some months than others.
  5. Read the text in your field guide carefully. That includes the introduction! Beginners often seem to rely entirely on the illustrations.
  6. Having said that, ignore any comments in your field guide about a bird being unmistakeable. Any bird is mistakeable if seen sufficiently badly.
  7. Go birding sometimes alone (so that you practice identifying the birds yourself) and sometimes with others (so that you learn from them).
  8. Learn to recognise birds by sound as well as sight. Some birds are far easier to hear than to see, while many others first draw attention to themselves by their songs and calls.
  9. Get to know the common birds well. Then you will notice if you come across something slightly different.
  10. Join your local bird society, RSPB local group or similar organisation, and go on their field trips.
  11. Have patience and keep trying. Birding requires skill and, like any other skillful activity, learning it takes time. Don't despair - even experienced birders often have difficulty identifying similar types of waders, warblers or gulls.
  12. And finally of course there are the rare bird reporting systems - some web sites are mentioned elsewhere in the FAQ, and telephone numbers are advertised in birding magazines. However it is probably much better to get to grips with the common, and rather less common, species yourself before you to start to rush all round the country for the extreme rarities. That way you learn more about the birds, and probably will appreciate them more as well.

But above all, don't forget to put the birds first - don't disturb them unnecessarily. See The birdwatchers code of conduct.