Category Archives: Shop

Woman sitting on a bench in the woods, looking through a pair of binoculars.

A Beginner’s Guide to Binoculars 

Binoculars are simple, right? Look through one end, turn a nob at the top, and call it good? It’s actually a little more complex than that. Among other things, wildlife watchers need to consider magnification, weight, and field of view. Lucky for you, the Mass Audubon Shop has the low-down on everything related to optics. 

Binoculars vs. Scopes 

Birders use both binoculars and scopes, but there are some key differences. As the name binoculars suggest, binoculars have two objective lenses, one on the end of each barrel. Scopes, on the other hand, only have one objective lens. With one large lens, scopes typically capture more light, allowing you to see at higher magnifications and are more useful when looking across great distances. Binoculars are a great introduction to optics, as they are more portable, more affordable, and also provide crystal-clear vision.  

A man standing on sand dunes looking through a pair of binoculars. A scope on a tripod is set up in front of him.
© Dennis Welsh

What to Look for in Binoculars 

Every pair of binoculars is marked with a set of numbers, such as “8 x 42,” which refers to the magnification (8) of the binoculars and the diameter of the objective lens (42). The magnification used by most birders is usually between 7 and 10, but don’t make the mistake of thinking bigger is better. A lower magnification means you can see a wider field of view and it is easier to keep the image steady. A higher magnification sees more detail, but the field of view is reduced. If you are inexperienced in using binoculars, a wider field of view of an 8-power (vs. a 10) is more helpful when trying to locate a bird or animal in the distance. 

The larger the objective lens, the more light can enter and, theoretically, the brighter the image should be. A larger objective lens also increases binocular size and weight—something to consider if you are hiking all day. 

Using Your Binoculars

First, check to see if the eyecups are turned up or down (when binoculars come out of the box, eyecups are typically down). People with glasses should use their binoculars with the eye cups twisted down. 

Once the eye cups are in the proper position for you, hold the left barrel steady and rotate the right barrel until you see one perfect circle of light through both eyes. Then, use the center focusing wheel to create a single, clear, crisp image.

Diagram of binocular components, including the eyecups, diopter adjustment, center focusing wheel, and the left and right barrels.

The Diopter Adjustment

Some binoculars have a diopter adjustment, an additional focusing tool typically used by people without glasses, and can be found as a ring on the right barrel. This adjustment accounts for any vision variances between your eyes and allows you to set the focus to accommodate the difference. There are a couple of ways to see if the diopter should be used—one of the most common procedures is doing a “triple check”.  

  1. On the first check, look through both barrels at a stationary object and use the focusing wheel to sharpen the image.  
  1. Next, cover the right barrel with your hand while keeping both eyes open. If the image is still clear with just the left barrel open, then do not adjust anything. If the image is fuzzy, readjust the focusing wheel.  
  1. For the last and final check, cover the left barrel—if everything is clear on the right eye, do not adjust anything. If you need to sharpen the image, slightly turn the diopter adjustment until the image is crisp.  

From there, do not turn the diopter ring—you will only need to use the main focusing wheel while exploring or viewing an object. 

Cleaning Your Binocular Lenses

If you notice your lenses could use a cleaning, first blow across the lens surface or use a “cleaning pen” (which looks more like a paintbrush than a pen) to remove any dirt or debris that could scratch the lens. 

Similar to cleaning a pair of reading glasses, lenses should be cleaned lightly with a microfiber cloth.  It’s helpful to breathe on the lens before using the cloth. Never use Windex or other similar glass cleaning products on the lenses.

Woman sitting on a bench in the woods, looking through a pair of binoculars.
© Phil Doyle

Buying the Right Binoculars

The best way to get an accurate feel for a pair of binoculars is by trying them out in person with our experts at the Mass Audubon Shop. We carry six different brands with varying magnifications, and members get a 10% discount. Plan your visit to the shop by going to

Take a Virtual Trip to the Shop to Learn about Buying Binoculars

Spotlight on Pileated Woodpeckers

Did you know there are seven different types of woodpeckers that breed in Massachusetts? Among them are the common Downy Woodpecker, Red-bellied Woodpecker, and Northern Flicker. More elusive, despite it’s size, is the Pileated Woodpecker.

Keep reading to learn more and check out our latest shirt design featuring the this striking bird.


Pleated Woodpecker © Tom Raymo

This crow-sized bird has a black body with white patches on the wings and is adorned with a flaming red crest.

While they can be hard to come across, you may hear their drumming or their high-pitched call echo through the woods.

Woodpecker Adaptations

Pileated Woodpeckers © Kim Nagy

One unique adaptation of woodpeckers is their toes. Their feet have two toes pointing forward and two pointing rearwards with sharp-pointed claws that enable them to scale tree trunks and other vertical surfaces to look for food and shelter.

In addition, Pileated Woodpeckers, like other woodpeckers, have stiff tail feathers that act as props (like a third leg) to help keep them steady as they climb.

Drilling vs. Drumming

Drumming and drilling are two different activities performed by woodpeckers. When a woodpecker drills, they are chipping away wood in search of food or creating a cavity for nesting. Pileated Woodpeckers chip large rectangle holes to pick on carpenter ants, termites, and other insects. And they drill large nesting cavities into dead or decaying trees; the opening hole is typically between 3.5 to 4.5 inches.

Drumming, on the other hand, is done to attract a mate or mark the woodpecker’s territory. While Pileated Woodpeckers drum throughout the year, males drum in late winter and early spring to establish and defend its territory. The drumming sound of a Pileated Woodpecker is low and methodical, only lasting a few seconds before drifting back into silence. Their straight pointed bills and reinforced skulls absorb the constant shock of drilling and drumming, protecting their brain.

Sometimes, you may hear a woodpecker drumming on your house. Woodpeckers drilling on houses can be a problem, as they will occasionally create holes in the trim or siding. If they are causing significant damage, there are some deterring options.

Supporting Pileated Woodpeckers

Not only does the Pileated Woodpecker’s drilling support the nutrients cycle by expediting a dead tree’s decomposition rates, but it also creates essential nesting sites for other animals that can’t create their own cavities. Animals like owls, bats, squirrels, and even fishers, rely on abandoned excavation sites to shelter or make their nests.

As outlined in our Action Agenda, Mass Audubon is dedicated to protecting and supporting the different natural habitats in Massachusetts, including the Pileated Woodpecker’s wooded ecosystem.

Show your support by wearing our new custom printed Pileated Woodpecker shirt and help Mass Audubon achieve our mission to protect the nature of Massachusetts for people and wildlife!

Pileated Woodpecker T-Shirt