Bird Watching Equipment

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All you really need in your eyes and ears to observe birds but it can make life easier if you have some basic equipment. Here are a few things that can get you started

Binoculars

Binoculars enable you to get a close up look at a bird from a distance, limiting the chance that you will disturb the bird and so making sure you can get a long look at them. However selecting and then learning to use binoculars can be a scary prospect so here are some tips on choosing and using binoculars.

Choosing Binoculars:

The key consideration with binoculars is comfort. You want to ensure that they are not too heavy for you to carry around and to hold up to your eyes, that they don't strain your eyes, and that you can easily move the focussing wheel. A neck strap is essential as it allows you to have your binoculars within easy reach but allow you to do other things at the same time. Of course there are a range of other considerations to make:

  • How much do you want to spend? The range is huge, you can spend anywhere from $30 through to $3000 or more. In general, the better quality ones will be more expensive, but if you are watching birds in the urban landscape where the birds are relatively close and you are new to the hobby, you can look on the lower end of the spectrum and get a great pair.
  • What magnification do you need? This determines how much larger the bird you are watching will appear. Every pair of binoculars is labelled with 2 numbers (e.g. 8x32 or 10x50). The magnification is the first number. The smaller this number is the brighter the image will be and the larger the field of view and larger magification numbers will be heavier, harder to hold still and less bright but you will be able to see further. Generally it is better to go for smaller magification (7 or 8x). 10x can be great as well but can be more difficult to use.
  • The second number on a pair of binoculars is the lense width in millimetres. The larger the number the brighter the field of view as more light is let in.
  • If you wear glasses remember to take this into consideration and choose binoculars either with foldable rubber sleeves over the eyepieces or twisting or sliding eye pieces.

You can buy binoculars at sporting goods stores or specialty stores as well as online.

Using Binoculars

Before racing out to spot birds with your new binoculars, it pays to have a practice and get used to using them. Work out where all the important features are. Bird watching binoculars usually have 2 central focussing wheels - one in the middle between the eye pieces and another diopter adjuster, designed to compensate for the differences between your right and left eye. This will be located on one of the eye pieces. Focus on an object in the distance, and use the central wheel to bring it in to clear view. Next, close one eye, and use the diopter setting to sharpen the view. Repeat for the other eye. Now all you will have to do is use the central focusing mechanism when you get out and use your binoculars out in the field.

Once you do get out with your binoculars you will find is it difficult to focus on a bird that is moving around. The best tip is to spot the bird with your naked eye first and, keeping your gaze on the bird, bring the binoculars up to your eyes and focus to get a clear view. Look for key features of the background and take your time whilst trying to locate the bird if you loose it from your field of view, move slowly and avoid jerky movements. Try not to walk and use your binoculars at the same time so you can watch where you are going.

It takes practice but soon your eyes and the binoculars will become coordinated and you will be getting up close and personal with some wonderful birds.

Field Guide

The other piece of equipment that is very handy to have is a field guide. A field guide is an illustrated reference book and a good field guide is worth its weight in gold. They are relatively cheap ($40) and have a description and image of every bird in Australia. Most birdos tend to prefer field guides with illustrations rather than photos, because the illustrations usually show similar birds in the same pose and they are not affected by light/shadows that may hide important features. Most field guides are available at bookstores for around $40. Go and have a look at a selection of guides, pick a bird that you know to look up in each of them and compare across the books. You should get a feel for which of the books you like. Consider were you will use your field guide - small, compact guides are much more useful on a bushwalk than a heavy hardcover book. Ensure that the field guide you are looking at is comprehensive (some books only contain a few species for a particular region), there are some great regional field guides but it is always handy to have one of the Australia-wide ones as well.

You will notice that the order that birds appear in field guides is not what you expect. You will soon get used to the groupings of families and where to go in the book to find the different orders of birds but using post-its to mark off some of the more common bird sections can help initially.  At It  It

Don't forget you can also use our Bird Finder. Follow the steps to give you a list of possible birds.

Finally, if you have no luck with these options, you can either visit the Birds in Backyards Forum to ask the numerous experts there, or you can use the Contact Us feature here and we will endeavour to help you. Remember to tell us where you are located too. 

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