IDEA #81. Find a bird guide and start trying to identify the birds you commonly see and hear. Your local Audubon Society can help you develop your skills, and they probably sponsor organized bird-watching events at which you can learn from serious birders. Start your own life list.
No creatures so lend themselves to observation as birds, and the extraordinary profusion of species and the relative ease with which a serious birdwatcher can pile up a long list of species sighted has made birdwatching one of the world’s most popular hobbies. Committed watchers travel the world, often undergoing considerable hardship and vast expense, to build up their life lists, logs of all the types of birds they have ever seen.
Even better, birds are also audible, and many birders are as eager to hear and recognize new species as they are to see them. This auditory birdwatching adds another level of challenge to the activity as a whole.
Field guides to birds of various regions are readily available in print and on line; any library should have several from which to choose. Increasingly publishers are producing guides that use photographs instead of the old, and often lovely, paintings and drawings. There are also audio guides to bird calls, although these may be a bit harder to find.
A sharp-eyed young person armed with a good guide can easily spot several dozen species in most locales over the course of a season, and if there are migratory flyways nearby this number can increase dramatically. Add some binoculars to the watcher’s toolkit and the number will grow even more. As fall turns to winter in the northern hemisphere many bird species are migrating, but the thinner foliage can make those who linger more easily visible.
If the youngster is truly bitten by the birdwatching bug, the next step is to find a local birding group—perhaps through a local Audubon Society chapter—and go out with experienced members. Many birding groups conduct periodic counts of species and individual birds in their area, and participating in one of these events can be exciting and profitable in terms of additions to the list.
Some birders specialize, and so the young watcher may want to work mainly on shorebirds, ducks, birds of prey, owls, or the many species of sparrows. But specialist or not, the youngster who has become adept at sighting birds and looking closely enough to differentiate among similar species will have gained important observing and analytical skills.