Friday, June 21, 2013

Improving Your Birding Skills

Note: this is the fourth post in a series on beginning birding. The first three are: “How I Taught Myself About Desert Birds”“Birdwatcher—Or Birder?”; and “Your First Bird Walk”

Once you know the basics, your interest in birds can take you as far as you want to go. In my own case, I progressed from total novice to someone knowledgeable enough to lead bird walks on my own.

My roving buddy at Tohono Chul Park and I started off at about the same level of knowledge, but she began birding several times a week, both on her own and with friends who are expert, and she is now what I would consider an expert birder. (She is modest and would deny this.) She can tell from a bird’s behavior if it is, say, a vireo, though she might not know which one. I feel fortunate that I even know what a vireo is. We sometimes lead bird walks together, and I almost always defer to her superior knowledge.

Bell's vireo nest in olive tree 4-22-2013 9-55-32 AM 3616x2712Bell’s vireo (the only vireo I can identify) feeding its young.

To become as good as my birding buddy, or just to expand your horizons, do all or any of the following.

Take classes. In towns where there is a branch, the Audubon Society offers birding classes for all levels. Check your local Y as well, or a hiking group.

Go birding with other people. If you have friends who know more than you do, you will benefit from their knowledge. If you know more than your friends, YOU will benefit from sharing your knowledge. Be sure to take a bird book or an app, so you can look up the birds you see. Trying to identify an unknown bird with other people is—believe it or not—one of the most fun parts of social birding.

Turtle 3-30-2013 9-49-35 AM 1415x1578.1You never know what you will see on a bird walk. My friends and I encountered this red-eared slider while birding at Sweetwater Wetlands in Tucson.

Find or form a bird group. Check community bulletin boards, or classified ads. If you can’t find a group, consider starting one yourself. You don’t need to know a lot; just have the desire and interest to learn more about birds.

What about a life list? You may have heard of “life llists,” the number of species of birds that birders have seen in their lifetime of birding. I have never been interested in keeping such close track of the birds I encounter; such detail seems to me too much like collecting stamps. But many people enjoy collecting stamps, and for many birders keeping a continuing list is part of the fun. 

bird listThis is one of several birding diaries you can buy online. Though a simple spiral notebook would work too.

I do make a list of the birds I see on individual outings, whether on my roves at Tohono Chul Park or on bird walks with other people, just for the fun of it. I count the number of species, then throw the list away.


National Audubon Society Tons of information on all aspects of birding, as well as links to local groups.

The Cornell Lab of Ornithology An educational site offering plenty of information, including a huge library of bird songs.

Birdzilla Describing itself as the Number One Birding Site on the Internet, this interactive site offers a wealth of information and activities.

Next: books, binocs, and apps.


  1. Anonymous9:40 AM

    As you predicted, I totally deny the expert status, but thanks for giving it. Most birders are so good at sharing their knowledge, one of the aspects of birding that makes it enjoyable. Your birding buddy.

    1. Thanks for the comment, birding buddy!