Birding is a fast growing hobby.

Bird watching, also known as birding, has become one of the fastest growing hobbies in North America. About 50 million Americans plan an outing to observe wild birds every year. In Canada more time is spent bird watching than gardening. Birding used to be a refuge from a fast-paced world and the purview of retirees. No longer.

In addition to more people of all ages going birding, younger birders have had a significant increase. A new generation has introduced competitive birding using technology, which is creating tension between old school birders and the new younger birders. Smartphones and digital cameras replace pads and pencils at competitive birding called Big Days. There is even a World Series of Birding every May. Seasoned (and older) birders refuse to bring cellphones with birding apps and digital cameras when birding. They bring a field guide, binoculars and notebooks in which they hand write notes. Traditional birders see the use of technology as a short cut.

The American Birding Association has a code of ethics which they are revising to address the use of technology. Confirmation of bird sightings based on photographs has not yet been officially accepted by the American Birding Association although they recently created a category in the Big Days called Photo Big Days.

Why has birding become so popular?

  • It is an inexpensive hobby – investing in fancy digital cameras aside.
  • It is convenient – you can bird watch in your backyard or a local park.
  • You get to spend time outside.
  • It is interesting and challenging.
  • It is relaxing. The concentration and focus are calming.
  • You meet interesting people.
  • It keeps you ‘in the moment’.
  • It involves you in conservation and nature.
  • It will make you happy.

Basic tips for birding:

  • Spring is ideal for birding because birds begin their migration north and they are more easily visible in trees before the leaves fill in.
  • Birding is best at the beginning or end of the day when many birds are looking for food and are active.
  • Listen for calls.
  • Spotting and identifying is difficult at first but gets easier with practice.
  • Bring birds to you and increase their habitats by planting native plants at your home.

Recommended birding guidebooks:

Roger Tory Peterson’s Field Guides exist for various regions in the U.S. central and South America. They are classics in the field. They are paperbacks.

The Sibley Guide to Birds provides additional bird information like distinguishing marks, behavioral information and different views. They also come for specific U.S. regions.pix

Recommended birding apps:

The iBird Pro Guide to Birds relieves you of toting a guidebook around. It has illustrations, photos, bird calls and a range map. It is $14.99 and comes for both iOS and Android.

The eBird mobile app is a joint project between the National Audubon Society and the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. It is a free app and available for both iOS and Android. It’s a database for birders worldwide. You can search for a specific type of bird, locate where others are looking for it on any day, and upload what you’ve seen. This helps bird conservationists keep track of bird counts.

Merlin Bird ID is a great app for beginners and intermediate birders. It asks you five questions to help identify over 650 North American birds. The questions are- Where are you? When did you see it? How big was it? What are the main colors? And what was it doing? The app will then provide descriptions of matching bird species based on this information, and it is very accurate. It is free and available for both iOS and Android.

See a previous ASE article about bird houses to go birding in your backyard…

It’s For The Birds about stylish birdhouses.