Birdwatching is the perfect hobby to learn about and enjoy wildlife, and it’s a great way to practice mindfulness. It can be carried out almost anywhere on earth. You can see or hear birds everywhere: on land, at sea, in the air and on water.
I’ve been interested in birdwatching since the age of five, and even now the buzz I get from seeing a high-flying raptor that turns out to be a honey buzzard is unforgettable.
If you’re a novice, this hobby can be taken up without any outlay on equipment. However, you will need very good eyesight if the bird you are looking at is far away. Alternatively, you can use your ears to ID birds by learning the calls and songs.
To get the most out of this activity, purchasing a pair of binoculars and a bird guide is recommended. Below we offer eight birdwatching tips for beginners.
Binoculars – which one?
The more expensive models are great for use in poor light conditions but on sunny days it’s hard to tell the difference between them and less expensive models. However, if you are interested in buying one of the top brands, a good tip is to buy second-hand from a specialist bird optical supplier such as In Focus, Cley Spy or from a RSPB or main Wildlife Centre shop.
Invest in a field guide
The book of choice for many beginner birdwatchers is the Collins Bird Guide, and it’s also available as an app. One benefit of the app is that it comes with the songs and calls of some of the birds that are resident or annual visitors, either as breeding birds or as migrants.
Download The Royal Parks bird spotting sheets
If you’re visiting one of the Royal Parks, we’ve curated a bird spotting sheet for each park, brimming with fascinating facts. The parks are full of birdlife, with most parks recording over a 100 species of birds. Look out for the green woodpecker flitting amongst the anthills in Richmond Park, the melodic song thrush in Greenwich Park, or the goldcrest in St James’s Park – the UK’s smallest bird. Remember to observe these birds from afar, and not to feed or attempt to touch them.
Also, get involved in our summer photography competition to win a pair of binoculars.
Find your local patch
If you have an area close to where you live that has several types of habitats i.e., water, woodland, scrub and grassland, you should make this your ‘local patch’ for birdwatching. Having a set route that encounters as many different habitat types will reward you over time.
Keep a note of the birds you spot
Keep a list or diary of what birds you are seeing. At first you may not spot many rare birds, but over time you’ll be surprised what turns up. Recording when you see the first returning common swift or chiffchaff is always interesting.
Identify birds with your ears
Learning bird songs and calls is another way to identify them. Once you hear birdsong, track down the bird responsible, watch and listen to it. This bird, like the other songsters in your patch, is likely to have a territory at that location, so will it be heard often.
By using this method rather than listening to an app of birdsong means you are less likely to have too many sounds going around in your head at any one time. Over time, the more habitat areas that you visit, the more bird sounds you will remember.
Consider joining a Wildlife Society or Group
Some local wildlife groups offer birdwatching day trips, with many in attendance having specialist knowledge. Don’t be afraid to ask for an expert’s help to identify a species of bird you are unsure of.
For example, a group local to The Regent's Park is the Marylebone Birdwatching Society. Find out more via www.birdsmbs.org.uk or follow them on twitter @BirdsMBS.
Don’t disturb the birds
One of the most important birdwatching tips for beginners is to avoid getting too close to the birds or disturbing their habitats. Disturbance can keep birds from their nests, leaving chicks hungry or enabling predators to take eggs or young. Think about the interests of the wildlife and local people before passing on news of a rare bird, especially during the breeding season.
Win a set of binoculars!
We’ve launched a campaign asking visitors to ‘Help Nature Thrive’ in London’s eight Royal Parks. The campaign has kicked off with a plea to #KeepWildlifeWild by appreciating and observing wildlife in its natural habitat, rather than seeking an up close and personal experience.
In keeping with this, we are running a birdwatching photography competition for young and old alike across each of The Royal Parks. Visit the competition page for full details on how to enter, and you could be a winner.