10 DOs and DON’Ts of Birding in the Field

Let's get back to birding basics with some tips and etiquette for enjoying bird-watching with others.

Spring is right around the corner. And if you’re like me, that means you’ll be out birding, looking for all the cool migrants that will be passing through. I’ll for sure be enjoying some group walks at my local nature center or at least visiting local parks where there will no doubt be other bird-watchers around. When you find yourself out birding in the field with others, there are a few basic birding etiquette tips you should follow. Here are a few I came up with!

1. DO put your cell phone away.
Let me preface this by saying that I’m what I like to call a “Google birder.” If I’m not sure what a bird is, I do a quick Google image search on my iPhone. Things like that are OK. What I mean by this one is don’t be the person checking your email or texting your friends while you’re on a group bird walk. You’ll appear uninterested and quite frankly, you’ll be missing out on the birds!

2. DON’T forget you’re in their habitat.
You’re entering their turf–where these birds eat, sleep, nest. Stay on the designated trails, don’t get too close and don’t do anything that will spook them.

3. DO enjoy the common birds.
Northern cardinals are gorgeous. Just ask my mom. It’s the only bird she seems interested in. Don’t forget to stop and enjoy cardinals, robins and goldfinches, too, even though you might see them every day.

4. DON’T be afraid to eat a snack.
I’m the kind of person that needs to eat every two hours. So on my first ever half day birding trip, I immediately thought, “When are we going to eat?!” Rest assured. You’re out there for four or six hours at a time. By all means, eat that granola bar you packed. Just stuff the wrapper back in your bag.

5. DO speak up if you’re not getting an eye on the birds.
You know when everyone in your group is excited about that chestnut-sided warbler that is seemingly right in front of you and you just don’t see it? It can be a little embarrassing to then raise your hand and declare you have no idea what their excitement is about. But do it. Speak up. Someone will help you get your eyes on that cool bird.

6. DO learn “bird directions.”
Unfortunately in the bird world saying things like “Right there!” in response to “Where’s the bird?” just won’t cut it. Not everyone is skilled at giving “bird directions,” but trying to accurately describe where the bird is will help everyone around you.

7. DO point things out even if you don’t know what they are.
If you’ve got your eye on something, let others know. There’s no shame in simply saying, “I see a bird with a white eye ring.” Then use those handy dandy bird directions from above to get others to see your bird. Then you can ID it together.

8. DON’T worry about calling out the wrong bird.
I admit that this is still a great fear of mine. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen a purple finch and confidently declared that I’m looking at some type of sparrow. The good news? Being wrong is a learning opportunity. Take the time to figure out what characteristics are throwing you off and chances are, you won’t make that mistake again.

9. DON’T be scared to ask questions.
This is mostly relevant when you’re on a guided bird walk. Squeeze as much knowledge out of your guides as you can. If you’re a beginner, ask them about ID tips and tricks and the songs you’re hearing.

10. DO have fun!
If you’ve never gone on a guided bird walk or participated in bird events in your area, I encourage you to do so. You learn so much from fellow birders. I promise that birding is more fun with friends!

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Kirsten Schrader
Kirsten is the executive editor of Birds & Blooms. She's been with the brand in various roles since 2007. She has many favorite birds (it changes with the seasons), but top picks include the red-headed woodpecker, Baltimore oriole and rose-breasted grosbeak. Her bucket list bird is the painted bunting.