Saturday, June 23, 2012

Top 10 Things to Remember When Birding With New Birders

Over the last few weeks, I haven't had a lot of time to go out birding. But when I have, it has been with new birders almost every time, and I have come to realize that they are really one of the most fun groups to bird with. All of us as birders should be interested in introducing new people to our passion for birds because more involvement in birding can only lead to good things! In order to help all of our readers work with new birders, I have put together ten tips for working with new birders. I encourage everyone to look for opportunities to introduce new people to the wonderful world of birds!

·         Teach them how to use binoculars.

Nothing is more frustrating for a first time birder than seeing a bird moving around a tree but not being able to get their binoculars on the bird. It only takes a few minutes to go over binocular basics, but it will greatly enhance the whole birding experience for the participants.

·         Even common birds can be exciting.

Yes, you may have seen a Cardinal, Blue Jay, or Mourning Dove a million times,but it might be the first chance for the new birder to look at that species up close through binoculars.  Some of our most common birds are some of the most beautiful. Don’t squash their enthusiasm by blowing off the common birds.

·         Take it slow. There is a lot to take in when birding for the first time.

It is very important to take your time with new birders. Just getting a quick look at a bird is typically not enough to keep them interested, so take the time to really study the birds you see and answer any questions they have. You might even learn something too!

·         Be sure that they come properly prepared.

Nothing can ruin a day of birding more than being unprepared for the conditions, especially if you have the wrong footwear. Let them know if they need to have a sturdy pair of boots or if tennis shoes are ok.  Think about long pants versus shorts, hats, bug spray, and sunscreen, too.

·         Teach people about the birds they are seeing.

It is easy to build an interest in birds if you can tell people a little about the birds they are seeing. Even the common birds have a story to tell. Migration tends to be a very good topic as most people are unaware of the amazing migrations that our birds undertake each year.

·         Point out the birds and don’t just call them out by sound like you might with an experienced group of birders.

New birders need help finding birds. They have not been birding forever, like some of us, and the more help you can offer them, the more enjoyable their day of birding will be. Take the time to help them get on the birds with binoculars. Remember, it is not about how many species you see but about what the new birder is able to see and enjoy.

·         Carry a field guide.

A field guide will come in very handy with new birders. I have noticed that when I am working with new birders, they like to take a look at the bird in the book after then have seen it in the field. I think that it is a great way to help them remember what it was that they saw and also to help you teach them why it was not another similar species.  If you don’t want to carry a field guide, there are a few really good apps for smartphones.

·         Send a list of birds to expect to new birders before going out.

This will not appeal to all new birders, but I have found that many like to learn some of the common birds that they might find in order to feel prepared to go birding. This gives them the chance to flip through a field guide and familiarize themselves with some of the birds you might see.

·         Be aware of other opportunities in the area for new birders to participate in.

I have been asked many times at the end of hikes with new birders what else they can do to be involved in birding. It is extremely important that we are able to point them in the right direction and help find them other ways to expand their interest in the natural world.

·         New birders might be more interested in other aspects of nature besides birds. That’s ok.

When you are out birding, new birders might take an interest in plants, butterflies, dragonflies, or other animals. No matter what their interest in nature, we should always encourage them to explore it further.



  1. a lot of good advice - nice post

  2. Those are excellent tips Rob. I think I've learned many of those things the hard doing it wrong. And some things I still could improve. It's amazing how many people don't know how to use binoculars properly. I didn't know either until my birder father-in-law taught me. It is also so important to go slow. It is too easy to over-stimulate and therefore overwhelm new birders in places where there may be too many birds for a first outing. I still think backyard feeders are the best place to start, and neighborhood walks are the next best place.

  3. Great advice! My husband "trained" me as a birder much the same way you describe above and I'm finding myself teaching (I use that word loosely here) others the same way. The list beforehand is a great idea I hadn't thought of.

  4. Very grateful for the advice for observing animals. Also pleasantly surprised by the content of the blog. Congratulations.

  5. ...nice post, Rob! Great advice.

  6. Great advise and post, Rob! I also love to watch all the other critters while out birding.

  7. Rob: magníficos consejos para invitar a todos los que se aburran en casa, a salir al campo y descubrir el maravilloso mundo de la observación de la Naturaleza y de las aves. Estoy convencido que esta actividad nos hace a todos ser más humanos.

    Un saludo.

    1. Gracias! I'm glad to see that we have readers that speak many different languages!

  8. Great post, Rob! I think one of the biggest mistakes experienced birders do when novice birders are present is degrade common species. We were all novice birders at one point and we need to remember this.

    1. Aboslutely! I know I was guilty of this but I have worked hard to change my thinking on this. Every bird is exciting for someone, well maybe not House Sparrows and Starlings!

  9. Terrific post filled with great tips!

  10. Great information! Keep up the good work!

  11. Thanks for an excellent post- a lot of great advice there! Even the most experienced of birders should go birding with folks new to the game now and then to be reminded of those nascent feelings of personal discovery and excitement.

  12. Even though we've been actively birding now for little more than a year, I still feel like such a newbie out in the field.

    That is good advice you gave and the leader of our local club seems to follow all these. But I admit when we first started out, I was like, "OK, nice... it's a bug. We didn't drive all this way for that!!" We've come to appreciate all the other aspects of nature since then, but it was too much early on.

    And after several field trips, I finally broke down and bought a good pair of "birding boots". Good footwear really makes a difference.

    It has been a rewarding experience to go out with long-time birders and we see this when we go out by ourselves and then are able to ID the birds for ourselves.