January 5 is National Bird Day, and bird watching is a natural (and relaxing!) way to celebrate. If you’ve been looking for an excuse to get out of the house, take a hike and look for some birds.
Bird watching offers a chance to enjoy the outdoors, no matter what time of the year it is. It’s also a wonderful adventure that you can go on alone or with a friend.
Get a Good Look From a Distance
If you know any die-hard birders, they’ll be happy to tell you how much money you can sink into binoculars, spotting scopes, and—on the even pricier end of things—cameras and lenses.
And while binoculars are a must when bird watching, they don’t have to cost more than your rent. When it comes to “bargain” binoculars, however, you’ll want to skip past brands that you’ve never heard of and stick with a company that has a long history with optics. These Nikon binoculars are an excellent choice, especially if you want to get serious about your bird watching without breaking the bank. Better yet, the money isn’t wasted if you want to upgrade to a bigger and more powerful pair later on, because it’s always handy to have extras and a pair to use once you’ve set up your spotting scope or such.
Keep Your Binoculars Accessible With a Handy Harness
A binocular harness keeps your binos safe and secure while you’re hiking, but it also keeps them right in front of you so it’s easy to snatch them out of the pouch when you hear a noise and want to catch a glimpse of some wildlife.
It’s a more convenient way to carry them than in a backpack, which you’d need to pull off your back to get at your binos, and more convenient than holding them in your hand or hanging them from your neck all day (causing potential strain). This chest harness is perfect for holding your binoculars and a small object or two.
TIDEWE Bino Harness with Rangefinder Pouch & Rain Cover, Durable Lightweight Portable Binocular Pack, Comfortable Small Bino Chest Harness for Hunting, Hiking (Brown)
Bring a Bird Identification Guide
One of the fun parts of looking at birds is the educational aspect. You may recognize some of the birds you see, like those that visit your yard often and your state bird, but you may also want to learn more about them and identify others that you see.
Although apps are great (and we’re about to recommend one), there’s a certain allure to the unplugged aspects of bird watching. If you want to embrace life offline for a moment and enjoy the hobby like people did long before smartphones and the internet became ubiquitous, you can do so with an old-fashioned (but always useful) bird identification guide.
National Geographic Backyard Guide to the Birds of North America, 2nd Edition
Learn all about the birds you see by looking them up in a bird identification guide.
Download a Bird Identification App
Identifying birds can be tricky. Sometimes you need to work to narrow it down. If you’re curious about what a bird is but you don’t have a perfect view of it, or you’re not clear on which of three potential birds it might be, a digital guidebook that includes a detailed breakdown and birdsong identification can come in handy.
While there are numerous digital guidebooks on the market, you can’t go wrong with Merlin Bird ID, a free and robust app from Cornell University’s Ornithology Lab. The app is available for both Android and iOS and can help you identify the birds you see by variables such as their size, shape, location, and sound.
Keep a Bird Watching Journal
If you want to get serious about bird watching, then you’ll definitely want to keep a journal. This is a great way to keep track of the birds that you see as well as where you see them. It’s a great tool for creatives as well, as you can draw or paint the birds that you see on the pages with your notes. Don’t fret if art isn’t your forte. You can also tape in pictures of the birds that you see.
The Birder - Bird Watching Log, Notebook and Journal: The perfect book for Birders & Bird Watchers
Keep notes on all of the birds you see, what they look like and sound like.
Stay Safe and Cozy With Proper Gear
If you’re heading out to the trails to look for birds, take the right gear with you. You need to protect your feet and your head, and you may want some extra pocket space. Here are three items worth having if you plan to become a bird watcher.
- A Good Pair of Hiking Boots: A good pair of hiking boots will keep your feet dry and protected, and they’ll also help you get over any rough terrain. Waterproof boots are ideal as well, perfect for all types of weather.
ECCO Men's Biom Venture Tr Gore-tex Hiking Boot, Black/Dark shadow/yak Nubuck, 42 M EU (8-8.5 US)
Not all hiking boots are created equally, so look for a brand you've heard of with quality materials.
- A Protective Booney Hat: Unless you’re doing some fly fishing and need a place for your lures, your booney hat doesn’t need to be fancy. When it comes to wearing one of these hats while you’re out looking at birds, the main purposes are to keep bugs off your head and to help keep the sun out of your eyes.
Columbia Unisex Bora Bora II Booney Hat, Moisture Wicking Fabric, UV Sun Protection Grill, One Size
Avoid ticks on your scalp and a sunburn with a booney hat.
- A Cargo Vest: Your cargo vest will give you a place to stash your pen, journal, bird-watching book, and your phone—in short, all of the stuff you need will be right where you can grab it quickly without a bunch of fidgeting and noise.
Flygo Men's Summer Casual Fishing Photography Vest Multiple Pockets Outdoor Waistcoat Jacket (X-Large, Denim Blue)
Keep all of your needed bird watching gear at hand in all those pockets.
Bring Along a Thermos
It’s important to stay hydrated while you’re out looking for birds and hiking the trails. Bring a canteen thermos that will keep your water cold and is easy to tote with you. You’ll want something that’s leak-proof as well as the option to carry warm liquid in case you’re bird watching in the winter.
BUZIO Vacuum Insulated Stainless Steel Water Bottle 64oz (Cold for 48 Hrs/Hot for 24 Hrs) BPA Free Double Wall Travel Mug/Flask for Outdoor Sports Hiking, Cycling, Camping, Running
Need More Storage? Upgrade Your Bag
Although we recommended a binocular harness above, sometimes you need just a little more storage space. To achieve that, pass on the two shoulder backpack unless you’re going on an extended hike with a lot of gear. If you’re just strolling around a local park or preserve and you don’t require day-hike-level gear to make it through the day, it’s a lot more convenient to use a messenger-style bag or crossbody pack.
Why? A crossbody pack is easier to access on your body and easier to remove, and the less movement and noise you make, the less you scare the birds. It’s a must-have if you’re bringing along any kind of snacks for your hike, and it gives you more space for carrying things like your car keys and a first-aid kit.
Fiblink Waterproof Sports Single Shoulder Fishing Tackle Bag Backpack or Handbag Chest Daypack Crossbody Messenger Sling Bags for Hiking Camping (Woodland Camouflage)
Use a crossbody pack for everything else you need to carry along with you.
No matter the season, bird watching gives you a great reason to get out of the house and enjoy nature. And armed with the essentials, it’ll be a fun and rewarding experience.