I talk a lot about birding. As an owner of a Wild Birds Unlimited store, I offer a lot of tips and advice about birds. But with working and owning a business, I don’t have as much time for the hobby as I’d like. Solution? Weekend birding! When I do get out, it’s usually on the weekend, so I want to see as many birds as possible. Does this sound familiar? Here’s my advice, from experience, on how to make the most of your birding time. You don’t need to travel far or buy an expensive spotting scope. You just need a field guide, a decent pair of binoculars and some good walking shoes.
Start Birdwatching Early
Sure, it’s nice to sleep late on weekends, but if you want to get a jump on the birds you have to go early. Birding is best just after daybreak, when birds are most active. Getting out early will also help you beat fellow birders and hikers to the good stuff. Someone just ahead of you on the trail may flush most of the birds, so you want to try to be the first one out.
Do Your Birding Close to Home
I read about great birding hot spots, and customers tell me about their latest exotic birding trips, but, honestly, trips like those are rare for most of us. I’ve found that if I stay close to home and make birding part of my regular routine, I go more often and I see more birds.
ABB – Always Be Birding
Turn your walks into birding adventures. Sometimes I hike in nearby woods or even around my neighborhood with my dog, Bella. Often we’ll walk right by a flock of bushtits in a shrub, or spot a ladder-backed woodpecker tapping in a tree. The key is to watch and listen for birds even when you’re close to home. You’ll be amazed how many different birds you will see and hear just around the corner. In fact, often you’ll hear a bird before you see it, so leave your music at home.
Most of the birds I see are in my own backyard. If you can’t get out for weekend trips, be sure to fill your feeders and keep your baths full and fresh all weekend. Put feeders and baths close to a window, and keep a field guide and binoculars nearby so you don’t miss the show.
Head to the Water
A creek, marsh or pond is a magnet for all sorts of birds. Hike along any freshwater source and you’re guaranteed to see more birds. When I lived in Minneapolis, I often walked along Minnehaha Creek, which wound through the city. The paths along the creek led me to great blue herons, belted kingfishers, flocks of cedar waxwings and much more – all in the midst of a big city.
Choose Birdwatching Destinations Wisely
Choose a destination with several types of habitats to see the widest variety of species. Check with your local Audubon Society or wild bird store for information about organized bird walks and for tips on where to go. Chickadees, nuthatches, woodpeckers and migrating warblers are some of the birds you’ll see among trees and shrubs. Bluebirds, meadowlarks and others like open meadows. A water source will lure all kinds of birds.
Avoid crowded spots; it’s hard to see birds if too many birders are in the way. I like to find an isolated spot tucked in the woods along a creek and settle in to watch. Sometimes I’ll sit on the ground, or on a boulder or fallen tree, and make myself comfortable. If I’ve chosen a good spot and if I’m quiet and patient, birds often come within a few feet of where I’m sitting to bathe, eat or flit from branch to shrub.
Consider the Season
In autumn, focus more on open areas to see migrating flocks. In summer, hit the woods and tall trees to spot nesting orioles, tanagers and vireos; the shade you find will keep you and the birds cooler. Try to find open water in the winter, since birds need it for drinking and bathing. In the spring, head to wooded, shrubby areas to see migrating warblers before the leaves have grown enough to block your view. No matter what the season, avoid going out when it’s windy or raining—birds will be hiding. They also avoid midday summer heat, but in the winter they often come out to sun themselves in the afternoon.
Anne Schmauss is the author of the book For the Birds: A Month-by-Month Guide to Attracting Birds to your Backyard, and she knows how to maximize anyone’s birding efforts.