How to Prepare for a Bird-Watching Trip

Learn what to pack and wear, the essential gear you need to bring, and other ways to prepare before you go on a bird-watching trip.

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In just a few short days I’m heading to Cape May, New Jersey to attend the Cape May Autumn Bird Festival. I couldn’t be more excited, but my excitement is a tiny bit halted by the daunting task of packing. This is especially difficult when you’re heading off to a whole different part of the country. Here are a few things I’ve learned since going on a few bird-watching trips. And trust me, this is list is as much a help to me as it is you. Hopefully this way, I’ll remember all of these things!

  • Print a bird list. A lot of festivals, Audubon societies, etc. will give you bird lists. But just in case, find one online you can print. Plus, if you’re like me, you’ll want to take a look at some of the birds you might see!
  • Fashion doesn’t count. Pack for comfort and warmth, especially this time of year. I find that I’ll pack a huge bag full of clothing options, but end up wearing the same comfortable sweatshirt for a couple of days in a row.
  • Bring sunscreen. Just because it’s not the heat of the summer, doesn’t mean you can skip the SPF. I learned this the hard way when my hands and face got sunburned while horse back riding in Colorado on a chilly spring day.
  • Don’t forget the essentials. The basics are easy to overlook. Make yourself a to-do list and include binoculars, field guide, chargers for electronics, a jacket, warm socks, rain gear. Check out the best birding gear you never knew you needed.
  • Check the weather. While a 10-day forecast isn’t always going to be accurate, it doesn’t hurt to look at the forecast for the area you’ll be birding in. That way you’ll have an idea of exactly what type of clothing to bring and if hats and gloves will be necessary.
  • Invest in a bird-watching bag. Whether it’s a backpack or cross-body type thing, you’ll want something comfortable to hold water, extra clothing layers, field guides and snacks.

Kirsten Schrader
Kirsten has more than 15 years of experience writing and editing birding and gardening content. As content director of Birds & Blooms, she leads the team of editors and freelance writers sharing tried-and-true advice for nature enthusiasts who love to garden and feed birds in their backyards. Since joining Birds & Blooms 17 years ago, Kirsten has held roles in digital and print, editing direct-to-consumer books, running as many as five magazines at a time, and managing special interest publications. Kirsten has traveled to see amazing North American birds and attended various festivals, including the Sedona Hummingbird Festival, the Rio Grande Bird Festival, The Biggest Week in American Birding Festival, and the Cape May Spring Festival. She has also witnessed the epic sandhill crane migration while on a photography workshop trip to Colorado. Kirsten has participated in several GardenComm and Outdoor Writers Association of America annual conferences and is a member of the Wisconsin Society for Ornithology. When she's not researching, writing, and editing all things birding and gardening, Kirsten is enjoying the outdoors with her nature-loving family. She and her husband are slowly chipping away at making their small acreage the backyard of their dreams.