Birding: a general introduction

Birding or Birdwatching?

To begin, birding and birdwatching, while used synonymous, are actually quite different. Birdwatching is essentially what the word means, to watch birds, whereas birding includes the visual and auditory enjoyment of birds, the study thereof, and a level of intensity (from amateur to professional).

Things you'll need

You don't need much to begin birding, you could just go and observe with your naked eye, but a few items recommended below are certain to make birding easier and more pleasurable.

  • A log book, pocket pad, or something to record your sightings.
  • A field guide, such as in the Peterson Field Guid series.
  • Binoculars.
  • And this website!

What to look for

You will be able to identify fairly close enough the species of bird by taking special observation to the size and shape of the bird; even if the bird is to far away, you will be able to note the size and shape of the silhouette (experienced birders are able to identify with just the silhoulette). If you are able to inspect closer, or with plenty of light available, the color pattern of the bird will help you greatly with identification. Take note of the crown, the 'above' (nape and back) and the 'below' (throat, chest, and belly). Since some species of birds are close in color and patterns, further distinctions can be made by checking the primaries, secondaries, and tetrials (the wing feathers) and the tail feathers. Lastly, it is important to observe and take note the behavior of the bird and the habitat in which the bird is spotted.

Where to look

Birds are all over: from boughs to the pond shore and down on the forest floor. You'll need to move a little and look a lot. If you are looking for a specific bird, you can check our records of identified birds in the arboretum and check your field guide for listed habitats, behavior, resident status (and what season it may be found in if it is transient), and rarity.

A few tips

Birding should be fun and if you're new, start with simple birds and bring a friend — four eyes are better than two! Company will also give you some time for some [quiet] conversation if you aren't having much luck. Remember, you'll need to move a little and look a lot. Now go out and bird!


Birds of the Arboretum

Northern Mockingbird

Northern Mockingbird
Photo by Benjamin Shirkey

Northern Parula

Northern Parula
Photo by Marshall Faintich

Northern Rough-Winged Swallow

Northern Rough-Winged Swallow
Photo by Marshall Faintich

Northern Waterthrush

Northern Waterthrush
Photo by Marshall Faintich