Beginner’s Guide to Bird Watching Around Your Home

By HomeAdvisor

Updated August 10, 2020

Hummingbirds getting nectar

Interested in learning more about the environment around you, or including the whole family in a new hobby? Bird-watching is an excellent past-time for people of all ages, and you often don’t need much more than a pair of binoculars and some spare time. Children in particular often have an innate curiosity about animals, so they delight in observing birds in their natural habitats. The best part? With the right birdhouses and bird feeders, you can spot gorgeous wildlife from the comfort of your deck, patio or porch.

Bring the Birds to You

Anyone with a backyard can work to attract birds for observation. Start with the basics of landscaping. This includes quality soil, an idea of the type of bird fixtures you’d like to incorporate onto your property, and a plan for regular upkeep. A landscape designer can assist with planning out where your birdbaths, feeders and houses will fit. A lawn maintenance and mowing service near you can lend a hand with keeping your yard trim and healthy. If you’re interested in a DIY-friendly route, bird-friendly crafts spruce up your garden in simple ways. 

You can also find birds in natural areas and wildlife refuges.

  • One of the Nation’s Ideal Bird-Watching Places (PDF): The National Audubon Association has designated Cuyahoga Valley National Park as an Important Bird Area, which means that people might do well to visit this location to observe birds.
  • Bird-Watching Basics (PDF): Beginner birders use field guides to find and identify different birds.
  • Bird-Watching Resource Guide (PDF): Timing is key to finding birds. Songbirds are generally most active during the early morning and late afternoon hours.
  • Binoculars and Bird-Watching (PDF): Watching carefully and listening are important for finding birds. Often, you will hear bird sounds before you see birds.
  • Birding Basics (PDF): Visiting a wildlife refuge can be an ideal way to find birds. These areas provide habitats for birds that include space, shelter, food, and water.
  • Introduction to Bird-Watching (PDF): It’s possible to find birds to watch virtually anywhere, including your backyard, in your neighborhood, and in parks and natural areas.

Choose the Right Binoculars

Binoculars vary in price and in features. Inexpensive binoculars often have Porro prisms. These binoculars can be somewhat bulky. On the upside, they focus quickly. Roof prism binoculars are more expensive than Porro prisms, but they often provide an easier handling experience with better magnification.

Get the Timing Right

Some birds are active during the day, while others are nocturnal. Both types of birds usually become active when the sun is coming up or going down. If you’re an early bird yourself, keep an eye out when you’re drinking your first cup of coffee. If you prefer sunsets to sunrises, dine al fresco in the evening. 

  • Get Started Bird-Watching (PDF): Early morning between the time the sun rises and mid-morning is often the time of the day when birds are most active.
  • Iowa Nature Mapping: Most birds are most active at dawn and dusk, so these times are the best ones for bird-watching.
  • Wisconsin’s Beautiful Birds: The transitional times of the day, when the sun is going up or coming down, are the most active times for various kinds of birds.
  • Non-Game Birds (PDF): Different kinds of birds will be more active at various times. For example, robins eat earthworms, so they typically come out after a rain to find worms.
  • Helpful Bird-Watching Tips (PDF): Songbirds are often most active with the most calling in the early morning hours.
  • Bird-Watching Guidelines (PDF): Birds are often less active during the heat of the day.

Identify the Birds

Learning to identify birds takes time and practice. A field guide that includes all birds local to your area will help with bird identification. The field guide will contain information about size, coloring, patterns, beaks, feet, behavior, and diet. Successful bird identification also takes patience because birds can be challenging to observe. Binoculars and a camera can assist with identification as well. You can also take cues from the types of flowers and feed you have in your yard.

  • Basics of Birding: An Introduction to Bird Identification (PDF): Birders use various criteria to identify birds, including size, shape, patterning, color, behavior, and habitat.
  • Bird ID Experts (PDF): People can have difficulty identifying birds in the wild because the birds may camouflage themselves and they often move quickly.
  • Beginning Birder’s Guide (PDF): Field guides provide comprehensive descriptions of various birds to help birders identify the birds they see.
  • Bird Checklist (PDF): Watching birds intently will often help birders identify them. Characteristics that help with identification include bill shape, size, and location.
  • I Think it Is a … (PDF): The sounds birds make can help with identification. Birds have specific songs that they use to attract mates, and they use call notes to communicate with each other.
  • Wild About Birds (PDF): Watching to see what a bird does and how it behaves helps you identify it.

Learn Birding Ethics

While observing birds is a popular hobby, birders must abide by standard birding ethics. The premise of these guidelines is to avoid harming or impacting birds in any way as a result of bird-watching. Birders should not engage in activities that causes stress or anxiety for birds. For example, if you’re in your backyard, try and stay quiet and away from the birds. Deck, porch & gazebo pros can help if you’re interested in creating a shady hide-away. Birders should endeavor to leave no trace of their presence in bird habitats.

Join a Birding Club

Veteran and beginning bird watchers can benefit from joining birding clubs. Birding clubs often schedule field trips for members to visit habitats. Birding clubs usually have meetings for members to gather and share tips and information about bird-watching. By joining a local birding club, you can learn about the native birds that live in your local area.

Other Bird-Watching Tips

  • Introduction to Bird IDing (PDF): Setting up bird feeders in your backyard is an effective way to attract birds for observing.
  • Bird Feeding: Tips for Beginners and Veterans (PDF): Different bird species eat specific foods. Different birds also prefer specific types of bird feeders.
  • Birding Tips (PDF): For optimal bird attraction, choose a variety of feeders. Place the feeders in areas with adequate cover, and keep them stocked with food.
  • The Basics of Birding (PDF): A field guide and a pair of binoculars is all you will need to begin birding.


  1. david white, July 4:

    An interest in birding is a great way to get a little exercise and of course be out in the fresh air, it needn’t cost much as it can be done from your local area. You don’t need fancy breathable clothing, boots etc, just binoculars and a book containing birds in that area, both of which can be purchased second hand if you’re on a tight budget. Happy birding!

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