So You’re Noticing Birds All of a Sudden . . .

by Ted Floyd

May 25, 2024

Ten Tips for Watching and Enjoying Birds During the COVID-19 Crisis

The enjoyment of birding, also commonly called birdwatching, has been in the news quite a bit the past couple of weeks. There’s been coverage at Slate and Axios, in The Times of India and The Guardian, on CNN, and elsewhere. Interest in birding has been surging of late. Here’s the deal: We’re all sheltering in place, we’re all staying at home, and we’re all, frankly, looking for ways to take our minds off the COVID-19 crisis, if even for a short while. And birding, it turns out, is a superb activity if you can’t get out of the neighborhood, if you can’t even get out of the house.

If you’re brand new to birding, we’re delighted you’ve found us. We’re the American Birding Association (ABA), and the core of our mission is to share the joy and fascination of birds and birding as broadly as possible. If you’re already a member, we hope you’ll put this short primer to good use: Share it widely, and feel free to tweak as you see fit.

Birds Are Real!

The ABA’s Ten Tips for Enjoying Birds Today

1. Use Binoculars. Or don’t. No question about it, a serviceable pair of binoculars is an aid to watching and enjoying birds. But check this out: If you have a small camera with a zoom lens, it can absolutely function like binoculars. Don’t have binoculars or a camera? Many large birds—waterfowl, herons, hawks, and more—are eminently viewable to the naked eye. And even smaller birds, if approached quietly or viewed through a window, can be easily recognized without optics.

2. Use an ID App. Merlin Bird ID by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology is user-friendly, intuitive, and free; identify birds with this app either by uploading photos or answering a few short questions (size of the bird, habitat, color, etc.). iNaturalist, also free, likewise identifies your bird photos for you; “iNat” can also identify butterflies, wildflowers, and any other lifeform.

3. Read a Bird Book. American Birding Podcast host Nathan Swick’s Birding for the Curious will walk you through the basics of finding and recognizing birds, and ABA magazine editor Ted Floyd’s How to Know the Birds will put the birds in their ecological context for you. The ABA has published a series of lavishly illustrated “state guides,” introducing the commonest birds of the U. S. states.

4. Ask for Help. It is absolutely acceptable—it is often preferable—to bypass apps and books and just ask someone else. The ABA hosts a popular Facebook page called, wait for it, “What’s This Bird?” It’s that simple. Upload your photo (audio, video, and brief description all fine too), and one of our friendly experts will quickly and accurately identify your bird for you.

5. Join the Club. Ordinarily, we would unhesitatingly encourage you to attend meetings of your regional or local bird club. Unfortunately, that is not possible at the present time. However, the ABA has responded to the temporary shutdown of bird club meetings with an exciting new Virtual Bird Club (VBC); go to our ABA Live webpage, click on the VBC link, and off you go!

6. Watch Bird Behavior. No matter your level of engagement or expertise, your appreciation of wild birds will be tremendously enhanced by spending Q. T. with an individual bird or small group of birds. Study of ducks at a pond, hummingbirds at flowers, and of course songbirds at feeders can be deeply absorbing.

7. Listen to Birds. Especially right now! Across much of North America, birdsong is at its peak annual intensity starting in early spring and continuing into June. Learning to identify birds by song is a challenge, but a very rewarding one. Or just enjoy the “dawn chorus,” a period of intense birdsong which lasts each morning for about the first two hours after sunrise.

8. Keep a List. In most residential neighborhoods in the U. S. and Canada, you can easily spot several dozen bird species, especially at this time of year. Sooner or later, you’ll want to keep a record of your sightings. A good old fashioned notebook will do the trick, but many birders prefer eBird. Also, the ABA has recently launched Listing Central 3.0, a friendly and thorough resource for managing your records.

9. Go Online. Okay, not while you’re actually looking at a bird in the field or from the kitchen window. But we hope you’ll become a regular visitor to the constantly updated and information-packed ABA website. From the homepage, you can go straight to the American Birding Podcast, the ABA Rare Bird Alert, ABA publications, and so much more.

10. Join the American Birding Association! The ABA is about so many things—knowledge, discovery, conservation, travel, and more. But most of all, we are all about birders. We are a small, grassroots organization, but with a big-hearted, audacious agenda: to promote sharing and wonder about birds everywhere. Nothing would delight us more than for you to become a part of the ABA family.

Please carefully observe state and federal orders regarding social/physical distancing and, as applicable, restrictions on movement and closures of parks and other public spaces.

The American Birding Association, Inc., is a 501(c)(3) organization whose mission is to inspire all people to enjoy and protect wild birds.