It has been written that there are 81 million birdwatchers in the United States. Well, if you include every person who looks out his or her window and observes it for a few seconds, then that figure might be accurate. But how many of these folks give birds a good look through a pair of binoculars and how many simply give a fleeting glance? How many people actually take a walk with both binoculars and a bird identification book? How many people can identify more than 20 species of local birds with accuracy? How many can identify 100 or more bird species properly? How many can identify all North American sparrows or migrating warblers in their winter plumage? I don’t know the answers but certainly there is an ever narrowing group of people who have the skills and knowledge to recognize the more difficult birds. Immature gulls, small shorebirds, birds at a distance on the sea and in the air, and identification in cold, windy, and dark conditions are challenges for the best of birders.
Want to try your skills? Go to the Patuxent Bird Quiz and try the Beginner or Advanced Quiz. Or go to Audubon’s Photo ID Quiz and make your best guess. And then there is the American Birding Association’s weekly photo quiz and BirdPhotos.com Bird Quiz. Try Computerbirding for a real challenge. And there are more Give them all a try.
I’ve led hundreds of bird walks over the years, mostly to beginning or at least not very experienced birdwatchers and although I’ve never collected data, fewer than half of those who show up don’t have binoculars and maybe one in ten has a bird field guide. Learning to birdwatch without binoculars is like learning to swim without water – you can go through the motions but it just doesn’t do it. And it’s frustrating. New binoculars range in price, but you can get a fairly decent pair of 7×35 binoculars for $25-$40 and a good field guide for about the same price.
Want to learn how to birdwatch? Besides arming yourself with binocs and a bird guide, go out with someone who knows the birds. Once you get the basics down, you can go off on your own pretty rapidly. I have birdwatched in over 100 countries all over the world and although I’m pretty good at identifying birds in Uganda, the Caribbean, Argentina, or wherever, I more often than not hire a bird guide to get me started. Forty species of woodcreepers in South America, all small and brown with white streaks and downcurved bills, would be more than my brain could handle, so it’s great to have a local to show the way.
It does not matter what kind of birdwatcher you are – a rank beginner, an aspiring birder, or just glance at whatever feather-borne creature comes your way, enjoy – that’s what it’s all about for us 81 million.