Birdwatching 101 – A beginner’s guide to birding in the city
If you are a potential or new bird watcher like me who is just getting introduced to ornithology and the world of birds – this post is for you.
Birds are wondrous, mysterious creatures. For as long as humans have existed, we have likely marveled at birds—their striking colors, beautiful and varied song, and perhaps most of all, their ability to fly. Birds soar high above us, and accomplish amazing feats of migration. We also now understand that birds are ancient. They are the last of the dinosaurs, “avian” dinosaurs living right here among us.
Most bird watchers view passion for birds as a hobby and a great means of relaxing. Birders enjoy the company of other birders or a beautiful bird photograph at the end of the day.
So what keeps birders interested?Why are birds and birding so popular? Here are a few reasons:
Birds are all around you!
Are you travel-starved post-pandemic? You love nature and wildlife but haven’t stepped outside your pin code in two years? Not to worry – you are guaranteed to find some birding action within your neighbourhood. Birds are everywhere and even in the most urban centres, a birder will never fail to find a feathery source of joy and excitement!
And in case your rooftop, balcony or garden doesn’t suffice, you can always head down to the nearest park, water body or open area – even a garbage dump or open sewer and surely, you’ll find some birds no matter where you are.
To be one with nature
Birding is a wonderful excuse to observe and reacquaint ourselves with the natural world around us. From being drawn into the cool environs of a freshwater lake, to inhaling some fresh air early in the morning or going for a long walk, 10,000 steps will be a breeze – birding brings you closer to nature and allows you to forget the routine and chaos of urban life, even if for a little while.
It’s the easiest thing to do
One of the best things about birding is that it is not limited by lack of equipment.
Absolutely anyone can take part and it costs nothing to watch the birds around you.
Having said that, a handy pair of binoculars definitely make birding more enjoyable and interesting. I have listed some of the gear that will take your new birding hobby to the next level. A telephoto zoom lens Camera comes a close second. Point to note : Bird-watching and bird photography can be two separate hobbies, as the photographer spends little time watching and more time clicking. A good birder will try to strike a balance between the two.
Many hobbies tend to get stale after a while, but birding can be quite unlike other hobbies. The more you observe birds, the more interesting they become. But this interest takes various forms – birding may introduce you to the world the birds live in and you may subsequently learn a lot about their habitat and other creatures that co-exist. Birding may lead you to discover and acknowledge relationships within nature, to understand patterns, seasons, changes in the environment and in the longer term – it may also help you in answering questions regarding climate change, migration routes, conservation and so on.
Do download the resourceful, easy-to-use, Merlin Bird ID App by the Cornell lab of ornithology to identify birds via their song, their photo or by answering three simple questions about a bird.
Sharpens our senses
See a flash of red out of the corner of your eye? Or do you hear those sounds that your friends fail to notice altogether? Do you find yourself picking up your binoculars and noting down details of a tiny bird in a tree before your companions can even figure out that there’s a bird in sight? Well, you must be a birder. Some people are born with a sharp eyesight or hearing or reflexes – but birding cultivates these senses in all those who take it up. You’ll find yourself hearing things where all was quiet before, or seeing movement in bushes you didn’t even know existed!
Backyard bird sanctuary
Fill up the feeders with birdseed— black oil sunflower seed is a good overall choice—and then sit back and see how many different species show up. You also can try packaged bird food which not only has black oil sunflower seed, but a mix of other seeds and grains like millet and safflower.
Because birds also are attracted to water, providing a fountain or shallow birdbath where birds can bathe and drink from might make your yard/rooftop an even more popular place.
Makes you a Morning Person
As the saying goes, the early bird catches the worm, which is why many birders head outdoors at dawn.
Birds sleep at night and are hungry in the morning, so they have to go out and eat.
Though you can bird watch at other times of day, avoid noon. Noon is when birds are least active. If you have your heart set on seeing many species, you’ll have to accept the fact that birds are most vocal and active when the sun comes up, making them easier to spot and identify during those early hours. I look forward to waking at 5am, getting ready in my camouflage clothes, packing my gear and biking to the nearest open water source. Some days, I carpool to one of the city lakes with a few folks from my neighbourhood birders club founded by avid birders, Jay and Deepak. It never disappoints and nothing energises us more than being with nature. The best part, we catch a hot breakfast and a chat before we head home and we still have the entire day ahead of us. For those who aren’t morning people, birding can quickly become quite exhausting.
The hope is that backyard birdwatchers will eventually open a dialogue on conservation and biodiversity. Whenever I go on a bird walk with my friend and passionate naturalist, Avani who initiated me into this pastime, we always make it a point to talk about the importance of biodiversity, habitats and so on. She believes that thinking about conservation is the natural next step for many people who become serious birdwatchers. And I agree. The goal with any such recreational activity with nature is for it to lead to conservation.
You may be a birder or you may not be a birder – it’s impossible not to be fascinated by birds.
So don’t wait, get out there and open your eyes and ears to a world full of avian splendour!