Birdwatching for Beginners

While some activities have been on the decline due to staying close to home, one that has seen a surge in interest is birdwatching! If you haven’t already joined in the fun, there’s no better time to start than during our re-imagined Bird-at-home-a-thon, which takes place May 15-16.

This annual fundraiser prompts teams to spend the day looking for birds and taking part in other nature-based activities, all while supporting our wildlife sanctuaries and programs.

Get in on the action by joining a team and following these easy steps on how to look for birds from Wayne Petersen, Mass Audubon’s Director of Important Bird Area program.

Bird watching.
© Jennifer Johnston

Wake up early. Early in the morning, around 6 am, can be the birdiest time. Birds that migrate overnight are often still active just after dawn so you could see them before they settle into quiet feeding modes for the day.

Listen for bird sounds and watch for movement. Start looking with just your eyes without binoculars. If you spot some movement see if you can get a closer look with your binoculars.

In a wide-open area, scan the far distance with your binoculars slowly to see if there’s anything you’d miss with just your eyes.

Keep your eyes on the sky to look for flying birds, either high or at treetop level.

Take a closer look at groups. If you see several birds together, try to stay with them because there could be several different species in the same area. Birds often forage together in small groups in the same places.

Find nearby thickets or weedy areas. Be sure to check them for any birds that might be hiding or quietly feeding.

Look for exposed bare branches and dead trees for perched hawks or woodpeckers first thing in the morning.

Find a nearby pond or streams, paying special attention to their brushy edges. Birds often like to be near water.

Slowly scan open areas, fields, and marshy areas because there are birds in such areas but they are often inconspicuous.

Be patient and stay still! Birds may not be as active or noticeable if you keep moving. Stand in one place quietly and take in the sights and sounds. Birds will often return to their normal behavior if you stop moving and seem like less of a threat.

A Bird-a-thon checklist will help you keep track of what species you identify. If you have a field guide, keep it with you to check species ID, range maps, and other useful descriptions (like behavior).

There are also online apps, like Merlin, that can help you ID birds. A quick Google search can also help you start to narrow down your options as well (though keep location in mind!).

Good luck, have fun, and hopefully find some birds you may never have seen before!

This entry was posted in General on by .

About Hillary T.

Where: Mass Audubon Headquarters, Lincoln Who: Massachusetts transplant by way of Florida and New York. Raising two young girls, who she hopes will be budding naturalists Favorite part of the job: Learning something new every day from some of the smartest and most enthusiastic groups of people

1 thought on “Birdwatching for Beginners

  1. Karen Pressman

    Hi Hilary,
    I was wondering if you would be interested in doing a really simple blog for people who are in quarantine and spending time looking out our windows at the birds and have very “stupid” questions that we would love to ask an expert- something like bird watching for dummies. I have no desire to become an avid bird watcher or expert, at least not right now, but want to know more about the behavior of the birds in my backyard ( from a 3rd floor window and sometimes fire escape).

    For example, every morning I hear the morning birds in mass chirping away to wake me up, which I enjoy, but where have they been all night and do they get together, like a morning meeting to discuss the agenda for the day?

    I have mostly sparrows in my backyard, a few robins and blue birds, but they seems to just fly around a lot all day, going from one branch to another. They seem to have no purpose in these movements, but may be very focused on a goal I do not understand.

    These are just 2 examples. I bet other would like to ask these kind of questions, without feeling embarrassed, and would love to have an expert respond. I am sure that I could learn from other people’s questions as well.

    I live in the South End of Boston, so my questions may be very local. Also, you may already be answering these types of questions, but I do not know where to go, other than general google questions and answers. Thank you and hope you have a safe and nice day.



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