Studies show that spending time in nature, and particularly spending time bird-watching, can increase happiness and improve overall mental health tenfold. In fact, research coming out of the German Centre for Integrative Biodiversity Research (iDiv) and the University of Kielcan suggests that being able to spot different species of birds can increase happiness as much as pay raise.
The art of birding is just that — an art — but getting started as an amateur birder doesn’t actually require as much advanced knowledge or as stiff of a barrier to entry as you might think. We spoke to a handful of amateur and professional birders to get their insights on exactly what you’ll need to get started, and it’s surprisingly simple.
Whether you’re hoping to get to know the birds in your own backyard or you’re getting ready to hit the provincial parks throughout the country, here’s all the gear you’ll need to get started as an amateur birder and how to start growing your knowledge surrounding the types of birds you can expect to spot within North America.
National Audubon Society Bird Seed ($21.93; amazon.ca)
“To get started bird-watching, you don’t have to go much further than your backyard,” says Delaney Van, a professional bird photographer. “Start by getting a bird feeder in your backyard with some high-quality but affordable bird seed from the National Audubon Society.”
According to Van, the National Audubon Society is also an incredible resource for finding, identifying and photographing birds. “Search for the National Audubon Society in your area to find area-specific information like local birding hot spots and bird-watching field trips.”
Panorama Bird Feeder ($29.99; amazon.ca)
“Starting to bird-watch is super simple,” says Tammy Poppie, founder of On The Feeder, a website about backyard birding. “You can go get a bird feeder and black oil sunflower seed, then hang it on a tree branch. It’ll cost around $30.”
Old Dutch Multipurpose Bleach ($11.69; amazon.ca)
“Something that’s never talked about when it comes to bird-watching, especially backyard birding, is the responsibility,” says Poppie. “People who hang their feeder and let it sit out there with no maintenance may be harming our feathered friends.”
According to Poppie, a responsible backyard birder will clean their feeders every couple weeks. Make a 1:9 bleach/water solution, place the feeder in it to clean, rinse thoroughly and air dry before refilling.
Merlin Smartphone App (free; merlin.allaboutbirds.org)
Amanda Smith, superintendent of Natural Resources & Education and resident birder for the Hamilton County Parks & Recreation Department, recommends looking into the Merlin app to search for birds based on their physical appearance or an uploaded photo. “Focus on identifying a bird based on their size and color to start,” says Smith. “It’s difficult to identify bird songs and calls unless you’re an expert.”
Allied Precision 7WW Water Wiggler ($60.78; amazon.ca)
A simple bird bath is a great way to start attracting birds into your yard — but still water can often attract mosquitoes just as quickly as birds. The Allied Precision 7WW Water Wiggler gives your bird bath a subtle ripple that allows birds to still enjoy splashing and hydrating, but provides just enough movement to deter mosquitoes from laying eggs in the water.
‘Sibley’s Birding Basics’ ($22.72; amazon.ca)
A simple guide to birding basics is going to be your best bet in learning the ins and outs of bird-watching from the comfort of home. The Sibley’s Birding Basics will help you identify and train your eye to recognize different feathers and sounds before you venture into the field.
Nikon Monarchs Binoculars ($389.98; amazon.ca)
The first and most important thing you need to start bird-watching is a good pair of binoculars, says Daniel Carter, founder of ZippyElectrics. “Your enjoyment of birds depends hugely on how great they look through those optics, so you’ll want to make sure you’re getting a big, bright, crisp picture through yours.”
In recent years excellent binoculars have become available at surprisingly low prices. But cheaper isn’t always better. While it can be tempting to get binoculars under $100, it’s truly worth it to spend $350 to $400 for vastly superior images as well as lifetime warranties, waterproof housing and lightweight material. “The Nikon Monarchs Binoculars is a great model for beginning birders,” says Carter.
Leupold Yosemite Binoculars ($358.65; amazon.ca)
“The Leupold Yosemite Binoculars are especially [great] for younger birders,” says Carter. “Get the 7-power or 8-power — they’re a nice mix of magnification while still allowing you a wide enough view that your bird won’t be constantly hopping out of your image.”
‘National Geographic Field Guide to Birds of North America’ ($14.77; amazon.ca)
“Locate a guide for the birds in your area,” suggests John La Puma, New York Times bestselling author and farmer. “I like the ‘National Geographic Field Guide to Birds of North America.’”
‘A Field Guide to Bird Songs’ ($29.10; amazon.ca)
La Puma also suggests making time to study the sounds and songs that birds in your area make in order to better identify what you spot. “Play bird songs and try to remember common bird sounds before you go out birding so you are not taken by surprise: Use technology to your advantage!”
Apple iPhone 11 ($998; amazon.ca)
Birds are innately artistic creatures, so you’ll want to be able to take photographs to admire their beauty and of course be able to ID them properly. According to James Bullard, Hobby Birder and Founder of SoundFro, there’s also the growing practice of digiscoping — pointing your camera through a spotting scope or binoculars. “It would be great to use a digital camera, but most smartphone cameras, like the iPhone 11, have the appropriate settings,” shares Bullard.
Gosky High-Definition Monocular and Quick Smartphone Holder ($169.99; amazon.ca)
Looking for a quick and easy way to capture professional-quality images with your smartphone? The monocular smartphone holder by Gosky allows you to capture incredibly high-definition images from hundreds of metres away with ease and precision.
‘The Sibley Guide to Birds’ ($42.43; amazon.ca)
“To be able to understand and appreciate all these bird species you’ll come across, you need a field guide,” says hobby birder Francisco Remolino. “I personally recommend ‘The Sibley Guide,’ in either its full North America version or smaller, more portable Eastern and Western editions.”
‘The Sibley Birder’s Life List and Field Diary’ ($25.06; amazon.ca)
Most birders will collect field guides and books to identify birds and know where to find them. “Making a checklist or keeping a birding journal is a helpful way to keep track of the birds you’ve found,” shares Kristy Esparza, amateur birder and founder of jjandthebug.com. “Drawing in a nature journal can help with this while also allowing space to document new details about the birds you’ve encountered.”
Setting goals and keeping track of your progress is also a good way to discover birds that are more of a challenge to find. “Discovering a rare bird that you’ve been hoping to find is sure to elevate your excitement about birding as a hobby,” says Esparza.
Outdoors Travel Sports Multi-Pockets Sleeveless Jacket ($35.59; amazon.ca)
Birding in the bush involves a fair bit of gear, but a fishing vest or outdoor sports vest is an easy way to store your stuff while keeping your hands free. Look for something with easy-to-access pockets that’s still loose enough that you can move quickly.
Columbia Newton Ridge Waterproof Boot ($102.69; amazon.ca)
A high-quality pair of hiking boots will take you far — literally. The Columbia Newton Ridge boots are highly waterproof and breathable, and offer excellent traction, allowing you to move easily on and off track to get a closer look.