Whether you’re watching majestic eagles soar high in the air or hummingbirds flit from flower to flower, bird-watching can be a rewarding hobby. Sure, you sometimes have long, tiring days where you don't see much more than a pigeon, but with the right gear, you can stay comfortable and maximize your chances of seeing some rare and exciting birds.
The question is, what do you need for successful bird-watching? Our guide to essential bird-watching gear will help clear things up.
If you buy just one item to kickstart your bird-watching hobby, make it a pair of binoculars. The nature of bird-watching means that you're often fairly far away from the birds you're observing, so it's vital you choose a pair with decent magnification. Most birders opt for either 8x or 10x magnification. The latter are better for distance bird-watching but give you a poorer field of view and more noticeable hand-shake. If you plan to go out in all types of weather, make sure you choose waterproof, fogproof binoculars.
Unless you happen to be the world's foremost bird expert, you're probably going to need some help identifying birds at one point or another. Even if you're skilled at identifying birds common in your area, you could spot a rarer species that throws you for a loop. Choose a thorough field guide book that's organized in a logical manner and can aid you in determining which species you're looking at. Alternatively, if you have a smartphone with ample data (and you're in an area where you get coverage), there are some superb apps and websites that can help you identify birds.
Few things are more miserable than standing around for hours freezing cold with soaking feet after wading through puddles with improper footwear. Pick the right clothing, and your bird-watching excursion will stay comfortable from start to finish. For fall and winter ventures, we recommend a pair of quality rain boots or other waterproof footwear, a well-padded waterproof coat, waterproof pants to go over your regular pants, and a hat and gloves. In the warmer months, you'll need long pants made from a cool material to protect you from ticks and the sun, a brimmed hat, and sunglasses to help avoid eye strain.
If you often venture out into the wilderness on bird-watching excursions, make sure you have a smartphone with GPS and preferably a power bank, so you don't run out of juice.
Bird-watching often involves a lot of standing, which can make long days extremely tiring. If you struggle to stand for more than a couple of hours — or you'd simply rather bird-watch in comfort — consider buying a lightweight camping chair or stool that folds up small for your carrying convenience.
Most bird-watchers like to record the birds they've spotted, so be sure to bring a notebook and pen with you. A simple lined notebook will suffice for the majority of birders, but you can find some specific birding journals that contain facts and illustrations. If you're artistic, you might want to sketch the birds you see in addition to taking notes. In this case, you'd probably prefer an unlined notebook.
This one isn't exactly essential, but if you'd like to take snaps of the birds you see, you'll need a quality DSLR camera with a telephoto lens, since you'll rarely be close enough to get a good shot with a standard lens. Taking photos is a great way to share your birding hobby with loved ones who are interested in what you see while you're out and about.
Now that we've gone over some of the essential bird-watching gear you'll need to take with you, you might be wondering where to stash it all. Our final must-have is a quality backpack. We recommend a backpack over a shoulder bag because it distributes the weight of the items more evenly and comfortably, which is especially important if you hike a fair distance to get to your favorite birding spots. Along with the essentials listed above, you can use it to carry food and water, your phone, keys, wallet, and basic first-aid items — plus anything else you might need for a day out. It's important to choose a quality backpack, since it would be a real pain if a strap or zipper broke out in the middle of nowhere.