A Beginners Guide to Bird Watching Gear

Have you caught the bird watching bug yet? If not, it's time to spread your wings and take flight.

Have you caught the bird watching bug yet? If not, it's time to spread your wings and take flight.

Table of Content

You're intrigued by the idea of bird watching and want to get started, but you're not sure what kind of gear you need. Don't worry, we've got you covered. To begin your birding adventure, there are a few essential items you'll want to invest in to make the most of your experience spotting feathered friends in the wild.

Choosing the Right Binoculars for Bird Watching

Choosing the Right Binoculars for Bird Watching

When you're just getting into bird watching, the most important piece of equipment you'll need is a good pair of binoculars. Binoculars allow you to view birds in detail without disturbing them. For birding, you'll want binoculars with some specific features:

Look for binoculars with 8x or 10x magnification. This allows you to zoom in on birds from a distance without too much shaking or distortion. Larger objective lenses, around 42mm, will give you a brighter, clearer view. You'll also want a wide field of view, around 330 feet at 1000 yards, so you can easily spot birds and follow them as they move.

Try out different binoculars before you buy to find a pair that feels comfortable and balanced in your hands. Check how the eyecups fit around your eyes and whether you can adjust the interpupillary distance for the best view. Look for binoculars that are waterproof or water-resistant and durable.

You can find binoculars for bird watching at specialty birding stores, outdoor retailers, and online. Prices range from around $30 up to $500 or more for high-end optics. As a beginner, you can get a perfectly suitable pair for $100 to $250.

With the right binoculars in hand, you'll be spotting warblers, hawks, hummingbirds, and more in no time. Make sure to also pick up a field guide to help identify all the feathered friends you'll meet!

Essential Field Guides for Identifying Birds

Once you've got your binoculars, the next essential piece of equipment for any birder is a field guide. Field guides help you identify the birds you spot by providing details about their appearance, sounds, habitat, and behavior.

For beginners, a general field guide to the birds of your region is ideal.### Popular options include:

  • The Sibley Field Guide to Birds: Considered the birding bible by many. It covers over 900 species in North America in detail.

  • National Geographic Field Guide to the Birds of North America: A very user-friendly guide with over 1,000 birds. It has excellent illustrations and maps showing winter, summer, year-round ranges.

  • Kaufman Field Guide to Birds of North America: A compact yet comprehensive guide covering over 900 species. It uses photos and naturalistic illustrations, as well as maps, to aid identification.

  • iBird Pro app: A popular digital field guide option. It has photos, sounds, and details on over 1,000 species. The app allows you to track and log your sightings.

As a beginner, start with a general North American field guide. Once you become more experienced, you can purchase regional field guides for more location-specific details. You may also want to obtain field guides focused on bird families or groups that interest you, e.g. raptors, warblers or shorebirds.

The key is to choose a field guide or app - whether in print or digital form - that you will enjoy using and refer to often. Over time, as you gain more experience, you'll get faster at identifying birds and may come to rely on your field guide less. But it will always remain an invaluable resource and reference tool for birders.

Notebooks, Pens and Other Supplies for Recording Sightings

To record your sightings and observations while birding, you’ll want to pack some essential note-taking supplies. Keeping a journal or notebook devoted specifically to your birding experiences is a great way to track your adventures in the field.

Field Notes

Jot down details about the birds you spot like the species, location, time of day, sounds you heard, behaviors you observed, and the habitat. Sketch the birds or note markings like crown stripes, eye rings, or leg bands to aid in identification. Record the date to look for patterns in migration or nesting over time. These field notes will become invaluable as you continue birding and can help jog your memory about sightings from the past.

Pen and Paper

Carry a small notebook, journal, or field book and a pen, pencil or marker. Waterproof paper can be useful in case of rain. You may want a pocket-sized notebook for quick notes and a larger journal for longer entries. Consider getting a binder to keep all your notes organized in one place.


Snap photos of birds when possible to provide visual references for your notes. Review and label photos when you return home to ensure accurate identifications. Over time, your photos and notes together will create a comprehensive record of your birding experiences.

Optional Recording Tools

Some birders use tools like a voice recorder to capture bird calls, or a spotting scope with a phone adapter to get high-quality images from a distance. Nature journaling supplies like watercolor pencils, pens and a sketchbook allow you to create visual records in the field. If technology is your thing, birding apps provide digital options for recording your observations.

The key is to find a note-taking method that works for your needs and style. With regular recording of your sightings and adventures, you’ll build a lifelong journal of your birding explorations.

Proper Clothing and Gear for Comfortable Birding

Proper clothing and gear are essential for an enjoyable birding experience. Dressing for the weather and terrain will allow you to focus on spotting our feathered friends rather than shivering in the cold or nursing sore feet.

Dress for the Weather

Pack clothing suited for a range of weather conditions like sunscreen, insect repellent, a hat, and rain jacket. Temperatures may fluctuate, especially if you’re out for long periods. It’s better to overpack than be caught unprepared.

Blend In

Wear neutral or earth-toned clothing, like greens and browns, to blend into the surrounding habitat. Avoid bright colors that may startle birds or make you easily visible to them. Camouflage gear is not necessary and may be off-putting to some birders.

Comfort is Key

Choose comfortable yet sturdy footwear suitable for walking over uneven terrain. Hiking shoes or boots are ideal, while sneakers will work in a pinch. Your feet and back will thank you after a long day of tracking birds.

Optional Extras

A spotting scope allows for long-distance viewing but is not essential for beginners. If photography interests you, pack a camera to capture shots of birds for identification or records. A tripod aids in stabilizing binoculars or a scope for prolonged viewing.

Buy What You Need

Test different binoculars before purchasing to find ones comfortable for you. Consider your budget and buy only what you need as a beginner. You can always upgrade equipment as your skills improve. Shop at specialty birding stores for the best selection and advice. Online retailers also offer good deals but check return policies first.

With the proper gear and clothing suited for your needs and environment, you'll be fully equipped to start your birding adventure. Focus on enjoying nature and discovering our feathered neighbors. The gear will fade into the background, allowing the experience to take center stage.

Useful Accessories Like Spotting Scopes and Tripods

Once you have the essential binoculars and field guide, some useful accessories can enhance your birding experience.

Spotting scopes

For viewing birds from a distance, a spotting scope is ideal. Spotting scopes typically offer higher magnification, like 15-45x or 20-60x, allowing you to see birds clearly that are hundreds of yards away. However, spotting scopes can be more expensive, bulkier to carry, and have a narrower field of view. As a beginner, binoculars will suit you well for most birding, but a scope can be a good future investment.


A tripod provides a stable platform for your binoculars or spotting scope, which is helpful for long viewing sessions or when using higher magnifications. Look for a tripod designed for the weight of your equipment. For binoculars, a small lightweight tripod, like a tabletop model, will work great. For a spotting scope, you'll need a sturdier full-size tripod. Using a tripod can make a big difference in how much detail you can see.


If you want to document the birds you see, a camera is useful to have. A basic point-and-shoot camera or the camera on your smartphone will work to get started. For higher quality photos, a digital SLR camera with a zoom lens in the 200-400mm range is ideal for most bird photography. Using a tripod or monopod will help stabilize your camera for the best shots.


Keep a journal or notebook to record details about the birds you observe each time you go out. Note the date, time of day, location and weather conditions. Describe the birds you see, including size, color, markings, sounds and behavior. A written record of your sightings will help you learn more about the birds in your area over time. Referring to your notes, along with a field guide, can also help confirm the identification of birds you're unsure about.

With some essential gear and useful accessories, you'll be well on your way to becoming an accomplished birder. The key is to start simple, learn by doing, and build up your equipment over time as your experience and skills increase.


So you've decided to give birding a try - that's great! Now it's time to gather some essential equipment to get you started. With a good pair of binoculars, a field guide, and some basic supplies, you'll be on your way to discovering the wonderful world of birds. Once you start noticing the variety of feathered friends in your area, you'll be hooked. Birding is a hobby you can enjoy for life, constantly learning and improving your identification skills. The key is not to get overwhelmed as you're getting started. Do some research, set a budget, and invest in equipment that suits your needs. Before you know it, you'll be out in nature with your binoculars in hand, recording new sightings in your journal and snapping photos of birds to look up when you get home. The adventure begins now, so get equipped and get outside - the birds are waiting!


Published on Dec 28, 2023