5 Ways to Be a Better (and Quieter) Birdwatcher, According to Ornithology Experts

published Jul 15, 2022
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One of the joys of summer is seeing wildlife. And no matter if you live rurally or in an urban environment, there’s one animal you can observe no matter your location: birds. Whether you have a fire escape feeder or a backyard filled with bird-attracting plants, such as sunflowers and coneflowers, watching feathered friends go about their daily activities is something you can do in any season.

However, if you want to delve deeper into your avian experience, head to natural, outdoor habitats to take your hobby to the next level. Summer is the ideal time to hone your birding skills so that you can continue exploring throughout the colder seasons. From how to act to who you should go with, here are five tips from ornithology experts for becoming a better birdwatcher.

Plan what you wear.

Birds notice bright colors, yet unfamiliar tones can be startling and cause them to take flight. “Avoid brightly colored clothes like orange, red, white, or blue,” advises Rodolfo Palacios, who is a freelance tour guide in Loreto, Mexico. Although white isn’t typically considered bright, it is very reflective, contrasts with a dark background, and attracts attention. Instead, Palacios suggests wearing more natural colors, such as beige, brown, or green, which blend with the surroundings. Also, avoid noisy, synthetic fabrics and opt for natural ones like cotton instead. 

Go with a guide or group for the first time.

One way to become a better birdwatcher is to hire a guide or join a group, especially if you are exploring a new-to-you area. “I strongly recommend hiring a guide — at least for the first time — to find the best spots, avoid unnecessary risks, and learn the local rules and some good tips,” Palacios says. 

Linda King, a birding expert who curates the butterfly habitat at Lost River Cave in Bowling Green, Kentucky, also thinks going with others will enhance your practice as you learn. “A lot of areas have ornithology groups you can join that do field trips,” she says. “This allows you to network with other birders and learn the local hotspots.”

Put your cellphone on silent or do not disturb.

Part of the excitement of birdwatching is getting close to birds, but a loud text or call can quickly ruin the experience. Even the typical buzzing of silenced calls can startle an unexpecting bird. “Lower the volume of your cell phone,” suggests Palacios. “A ringtone can spoil the moment.” Spam calls and unnecessary texts are already a nuisance, which compounds if they scare away a rare bird.

However, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t take your smartphone along. Downloading a birdwatching app before heading out can help you identify various species. “There are apps such as iBird Pro and Merlin that you can download and keep with you,” recommends King. Although, if you use an app, King advises against playing bird songs to attract wildlife. “This can cause them to quit doing their normal behaviors,” she warns.

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Tread quietly.

In addition to avoiding noisy technology, King stresses that keeping quiet is essential, so limit the amount of conversation and walk lightly. “Good birding etiquette includes whispering, not running or jumping, not playing music or bird calls, and allowing the birds to behave as naturally as possible,” she says. Palacios agrees that noise can scare away feathered friends — he suggests staying still and using hand signals to communicate. 

Respect the environment.

As you observe the birds, be considerate and remember that you’re entering their home. “Respect wildlife, observe only, and try not to disturb,” recommends Palacios. One of the best ways to be polite is to take a pair of binoculars so you can observe from afar. “The most important thing to enjoy birding is to take appropriate binoculars,” says Palacios. He uses 8×42 binoculars, and King adds that standard starter binoculars — either 8×35 or 10×42 — are also a good choice for beginner birdwatchers.