CBC Docs POV·Article

Birding for beginners: What you need and need to know

All the tips and tricks to become a better birder

All the tips and tricks to become a better birder

(Dreamstreet Pictures)

Birdwatching is soaring in popularity. In Rare Bird Alert, a documentary from CBC Docs POV, we follow avid birder and punk rocker, Paul Riss, as he travels across North America to meet other 'unlikely birders' — some who have been doing it for decades, some who are just starting out. 

"Once you begin birding, you fall in love with it," says Riss. Here's what you need, and need to know, to get out there and start spotting species in your own backyard. 

Things you need

Binoculars or a spotting scope

A good set of peepers can only get you so far. While you might be able to easily spot the blue jay or hummingbird checking out your backyard feeder, spotting birds in the field can be a bit more tricky. A pair of 'binos' gets you closer to the action as the birds flitter and flap through the air and brush.

Some birders opt for a spotting scope;  a miniature telescope on legs. More bulky and heavier than binoculars, a scope on a tripod keeps your view level and steady so you can really take in that rare bird perching in the distance.

(Dreamstreet Pictures)

Field guide

There are over 10,000 bird species in the world and, while they don't all visit your neck of the woods, there are a lot of common species that can be tough to identify due to similarities in size and colourings. 

Get a field guide for your area or a birding app on your smartphone. It can help you identify whether you're looking at a palm warbler or a yellow warbler, and offer additional tips for birding success. 



A checklist of all the birds found in your area will tell you what you should keep an eye out for — a bit like a scavenger hunt. Checklists are useful, especially if there's a 'vagrant,' or a rare bird, that can be spotted near you.


Weather-proof notebook or 'eBird' app

Have a notebook in your pack to jot down advice from other birders or to note a great spot for seeing a particular species. For the technologically advanced, the eBird app on your smartphone is a handy way to keep track of all the birds you spot and find out what others are seeing near you. 

A camera

A small camera can help you keep track of locations, but also lets you take beautiful shots of the birds you're seeing. One expert tip — take a close-up picture of that special bird through a spotting scope! Check out some other bird photography tips

Helpful tips and tricks

Start in your own backyard

Try starting your bird watching close to home at a backyard feeder. On your walks around your neighbourhood, keep an eye out for any and all birds so you become familiar with the species that live in your area. 

Learn the lingo

There's lots of terms that birders use to discuss their passion. From 'lifers' to 'twitchers', the language can be confusing. Watch the video below to start speaking like the pros. It's time to get out there and find your 'spark bird!"

Rare Bird Alert: Lexicon

3 years ago
Duration 2:07
There's a lot of lingo when it comes to birdwatching. Here's our definitive guide to the birding buzz words you need to know in the field.

Find unusual places to spot birds

Areas like local cemeteries — a large, quiet space where human activity is lower — offer space for birds to gather. Landfills are great places to spot raptors and other birds who enjoy snacking on our leftovers. And wharfs or harbours are great places to see wading and shorebirds.

Dress like a penguin, not a parrot

Wear breathable layers to stay comfortable in all sorts of weather conditions. You'll need sunscreen, a hat and water-resistant footwear. And don't forget to pack some bug spray!

Reduce your impact

While it's a treat to witness what nature has to offer, it's important to follow guidelines like these from the American Birding Association to minimize your impact. Avoid stressing birds or exposing them to danger. Be cautious around nesting colonies and feeding sites. 

Stay safe 

Some of the best birding happens early in the morning and it's important to stay safe while enjoying the outdoors. Avoid birding alone and bring a friend, pack food and water for your day and always have your cell phone charged. Check out more safety tips from Audubon to avoid any mishaps in the field

Make some friends

Joining a local birding or naturalist club to meet others and pick up some knowledge and pro tips from experienced birders. Members can be a great source of info and inspiration, from help identifying species to where you can find the latest "mega-tick," a very rare bird.

Now get out there and spot some birds!

Watch Rare Bird Alert on CBC Docs POV.

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