Birding in the City: How to Be an Urban Birder

You don't have to leave the city to see amazing birds. Follow simple tips from David Lindo, the Urban Birder, to learn how to be an urban bird-watcher.

Loving pigeons cooing on tiled roofLux Blue/Getty Images
Pigeons preen on a rooftop.

There’s a massive misconception about birding in urban areas. Some assume it requires a depth of knowledge, awareness and skill to spot interesting birds in the city—but, in actuality, it couldn’t be easier. According to David Lindo, who is internationally known as The Urban Birder, you start by simply looking up.

“It’s amazing what you can see when you look up: swirling swifts, migrating thrushes, raucous crows, birds of prey. It’s a beautiful world up there,” David says. Check out this guide to bird-watching basics for beginners.

Meet David Lindo: The Urban Birder

An ever-curious naturalist, David was born in North West London and was enchanted by the outdoors at an early age.

“When I was about 3 years old, I went missing during a family party and caused my mum great panic. The police were called, a search party was dispatched, and I was eventually found standing outside a graveyard watching some magpies,” David says. Now he’s one of the leaders in the movement to observe nature in populated places. Learn how to get kids excited about birding.

David Lindo at a speaking engagementNina Rangoy
David Lindo at a speaking engagement

With limited access to the English countryside, he started seeking feathered friends in the only place he could: around his bustling neighborhood. At 8 years old, he borrowed a field guide from the library and set out to study the scientific names, sizes and markings of all the local species. David became a notable local birding hobbyist. And in the early 2000s, his personal passion transformed into a budding career as a naturalist with a call from the British Broadcasting Corp. The BBC asked him to appear on the long-running annual TV series Springwatch.

“I remember pacing up and down the kitchen, thinking, What I can say and do during my screen test?” David says. “I wanted to be the next David Attenborough. I wanted to be out there clambering over rocks in the Galapagos and through jungles in Peru.”

With time, his career began to blossom and he was birding worldwide, often visiting Los Angeles, New York City and Cleveland, among other cities. Discover the top 10 bird-friendly cities in America.

Now a broadcaster, writer, photographer, public speaker and tour operator, David is still encouraging everyone to set their eyes to the skies wherever they may be. Here’s his best birding advice:

Look for Birds Everywhere

Whether you’re sitting in a coffee shop, reading in a local park or commuting to work, try to awaken your senses. David says not to worry about the best gear, guidebooks, binoculars and the rest. Once you open your mind and your eyes, you’ll start seeing birds. Psst—these are the most common city birds seen in urban birding hotspots.

pileated woodpecker, urban birdingCourtesy Nancy Jahnel
Pileated woodpecker family in a St. Paul, Minnesota, city park

Try Patch Birding

In birding slang, a patch is a local area that’s frequented by bird-watchers. Keep an eye out for like-minded people in local parks and say hello. “Don’t be forced into feeling that you need to be an expert in five minutes—you need to do it in a gentle way, at your pace,” says David, who taught himself the basics of birding. Make month-by-month birding resolutions to get started.

Set Your Own Rhythm

While there are those who seek to add as many species as possible to their life list, David recommends starting small. Cast the expectations, ditch the list, release the nagging pressure and simply observe. “I’m interested in being able to remember the experience by watching the bird and really studying it—and that, for me, is most exciting,” he says. To get you started, here’s 15 backyard birds you should know.

Manage Your Mindset

David’s philosophy for watching wildlife revolves around seeing the world as birds would. “The buildings are cliffs, and any other green areas are an oasis for nesting, resting and feeding. Don’t stress about learning the names and songs of all the birds you encounter; just enjoy them,” he said. Discover the official state bird of all 50 states.

Birding is a Great Stress Reliever

Bird-watching is a spiritual experience for some. Approach it with the right attitude and you’ll discover that birds are everywhere. “What excites me most about birding is the way it makes me feel,” David says. “I feel so at peace. Even when you might have problems, or during these troubled times, it’s one of the few times you can have an escape. And it’s good for you.”

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Bonus: Join a Birding Community

Whether it’s the National Audubon Society, American Birding Association or even the worldwide urban birding club that David is launching, birding is best enjoyed with your friends. David says his life purpose is to encourage a conservation army, and this club is how he’s achieving that mission. For updates, visit theurbanbirderworld.com.

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