Being a birdwatcher isn’t actually about having all the special gear and knowing all the birds. Birdwatching really is just watching birds!

Having special gear and knowing birds really well is wonderful and can take the experience to another level, but the simple act of watching and admiring birds can make you a birdwatcher too.

One of the wonderful things about watching birds is that it brings you in to the present moment. If a bird appears, now is the time to observe it because in a moment, it could be gone.

Birding is such an engaging way to bring new excitement to your adventures in nature. If you are keen to give birdwatching a go think ‘watching birds’ as your starting point. Try the tips below to make it easier and fun.

Let’s go birding

If you are keen to give birdwatching a go, try spotting, observing and identifying 5 different species of bird on your next adventure, then you can step it up over time.

Here are some tried-and-tested tips for finding birds, and what to do when you’ve spotted one!

Photos: Euan Moore

Once we have our eyes in to spotting birds, we can pay attention to their features. This helps with identifying what they are. Features to pay attention to include:

Caption: Black swan with eggs in a nest. Photo: Euan Moore

Location – where in the world, what type of habitat and whereabouts in the habitat. E.g. the bird might be near Ballarat, in a forest, or on the ground.

Shape – body, beak, legs, wings, in flight.

Size – compare with a nearby known bird or object for relative size.

Colours and patterns.

Sound of their call.

Behaviour – what are they doing? How are they flying/moving? Are they interacting with others e.g. in a noisy flock or solitary and quiet?

Once we have taken time to notice and admire the features of a bird, we can use this information to identify them. There are many books and apps with details on Australia’s birds. These resources generally guide you through identifying your bird. They include information on the geographic area where the bird is known to live as well as the bird’s features.

Apps

  1. Pizzey and Knight Birds of Australia, Gibbon Multimedia Aus Pty Ltd
  2. The Morcombe & Stewart Guide to Birds of Australia/Morcombe’s Birds of Australia, mydigitalearth.com
  3. Merlin, The Cornell Lab of Ornithology

Books

  1. The Field Guide to the Birds of Australia”, by Graham Pizzey and Frank Knight
  2. The Australian Bird Guide” by Peter Menkhorst and others
  3. Field Guide to the Birds of Australia”, by Nicholas Day and Ken Simps

BirdLife Australia also has a comprehensive online database of Australian birds. You can browse by bird group (e.g. waterbirds) and location to see what kinds of birds you might encounter while out birdwatching in your local area.

Caption: King Parrot. Photo: Euan Moore

Keeping a simple list of the birds you see is a great way to really focus on birdwatching and will help you learn about the birds in your area. Just a basic written list is all that you need. Some national parks or local councils have a list or guide to local birds available online. These lists can be used as a checklist.

Once you are able to identify birds correctly, you can even start to submit your records to a range of databases especially http://birdata.birdlife.org.au  and be a part of building our collective knowledge of birds.

Parts of the binoculars

Strap attachment – Point for attaching neck strap or shoulder harness.

Centre hinge – Allows adjustment for the separation of the barrels.

Objective lens – Gathers light from the subject being viewed.

Eyepiece – These are the lenses that you look through.

Diopter – Adjusts focus between the two barrels to accommodate differences between your eyes.

Focus knob – To focus on your subject

Adjusting your binoculars

  1. Attach the neck strap and adjust the length so that the binoculars sit comfortably against your chest.
  2. Adjust the rings surrounding the eyepieces for the naked eye or contact lenses (out) or wearing glasses (in).
  3. Adjust the hinge to suit the distance between your eyes.
  4. Select an object with clear sharp outlines, e.g. a dead tree or power pole, and view through your binoculars.
  5. Shut your right eye and focus on your object using the central focus knob.
  6. While still viewing your object and without changing the focus, open your right eye and close your left eye. Now use the diopter adjustment to get clear focus through your right eye.
  7. Open both eyes. You should now have clear stereoscopic view of your subject.

Once you have completed this setup you should only have to adjust the diopter occasionally if it gets out of alignment or if other people are using the binoculars.  Remember everyone’s eyes are different in how they focus and the amount of difference between each eye.

How to use your binoculars for birdwatching

Always carry your binoculars hanging around your neck so that they are easily accessible. Before you start, adjust the focus to a moderate distance by focusing on something 20-30m away.

When you spot a bird or other animal:

  1. Keep the bird in the center of your vision and follow it if it moves – do not look away.
  2. Bring your binoculars up to your eyes.
  3. Focus your binoculars.

If you have kept your subject in center view, when you look through the binoculars you should be looking straight at it. If your binoculars are focused mid-range there is less adjustment needed to focus on your subject. By having the binoculars around your neck, you do not have to look away from your subject to find your binoculars and inevitably lose sight of it.