Get Started with Birding
By Jennie Duberstein
So you’re ready to Meet Your Birds? Whether you want to identify birds in your yard or you are interested in going on field trips with others, birding is a wonderful pastime. Below are a few tips and suggestions to help you get started.
Start with the basics
There are lots of fantastic resources focusing on what to look for when you are trying to identify a bird (size, shape, color/patterns, behavior, and habitat), and I encourage you to spend some time learning about what to look for. But when I say “start with the basics,” I am speaking more generally. One of the things that make southeastern Arizona so special is the great diversity of birds. There are 552 species on the official state list, so figuring out where to start can be overwhelming. My advice to you: learn the common birds first, and build from there. Start by really studying the birds that you are most likely to see, or the ones that you see every day. Learn their behavior, listen to their calls and songs, and study their habitat. Each time you see a new bird, you’ll have a frame of reference that will help you compare what you are seeing to what you already know. When you bird a new location, you’ll be able to look at the habitat and get an idea of the sorts of birds that might be there. Before you know it, you’ll be adding new species to your list, and feeling really solid about your ability to identify them.
Get to know your “local patch”
There are many wonderful spots to go birding in SE Arizona, but there is a tremendous amount to be said for having your own local patch that you regularly bird. For me, this is Sweetwater Wetlands. When I am in town, I try to get there once a week for an hour or two before work. It’s a wonderful way to see how things change throughout the year, from the spring and fall migrants to the winter and summer residents. And you never know when something unexpected might show up. There is always something new to see, and by going back to the same spot regularly and becoming familiar with the usual species, you’ll be more likely to notice something new or different when it does appear.
You don’t need fancy optics to be a birder
Do you like to look at birds? You’re a birder! High-quality binoculars and spotting scopes are expensive, but there are many entry and mid-level options that are very affordable. Shameless plug: the volunteers and staff at the Tucson Audubon Nature Shops will be more than happy to give you advice when you are ready to buy something. And you can enjoy birds even if you don’t have any binoculars at all (in fact, Ted Eubanks coined the term “bare-naked birding” to refer to birding without optics).
Get a good field guide
One thing that I DO recommend spending money on from the start is a quality field guide. My personal favorite for beginning birders is the Kaufman Field Guide to the Birds of North America. It is intuitively organized for people who don’t necessarily know a lot about birds, and chock-full of great information about behavior, habitat, and more. The Sibley Guide is another excellent option, and there are many others out there, each with their own pros and cons. Stop by the Tucson Audubon Nature Shops to check out the selection and find one that works for you.
Meet other birders
One of the best ways to learn about birds is by going out and birding with other people. Tucson Audubon offers all sorts of ways to do this, from free field trips and lectures to more in-depth classes and courses. Now get out there and Meet Your Birds!
Revised 8th Edition, 2015
Tucson Audubon’s updated edition brings together all the latest information on finding birds in southeast Arizona. This is your best source of detailed information that will help in planning bird watching adventures in the region.
A great interactive companion to our Finding Birds in Southeast Arizona, our new app covers over 130 birding sites in six subregions in and around Tucson, all vetted by local experts. Search by nearest site, by bird, or by city and get exact directions! Keep track of your sightings and share with friends on Facebook.