Birders looking at birds

Birding for beginners – 5 tips for new birders

We’re fast approaching one the best times of the year for Ontario bird-watching. As we move into fall, birds start migrating to their winter homes. Birds to watch for include shorebirds and raptors.

If you’re an aspiring birder — and want to learn more about our feathered friends — here are some tips from Ontario Parks naturalists David Bree (Presqui’ile Provincial Park) and Pilar Manorome (Rondeau Provincial Park) to get you started.

Tip #1: Practice backyard birding

family of birdwatchers

Buy a good pair of binoculars and practice watching birds in your own garden. Observe their behaviour. See if you can spot them foraging for food, feeding their babies, displaying their plumage or having a tiff with other birds. And listen for their songs. You often hear a bird before you see it.

Tip #2: Get a local field guide

Kestrel flying
Kestrels and other birds of prey follow the birds and insects south. This one’s snacking on grasshoppers.

A field guide is a book with pictures and descriptions of birds organized by family, e.g. shorebirds (plovers, sandpipers, gulls), raptors (hawks, eagles, ospreys). This book will help identify the birds you spot.

Be sure to grab a guide that’s relevant to your area. If your guide brims with macaws and flamingos, it won’t be much help in ID-ing Canadian birds.

Popular field guides include Sibley’s, Peterson’s and National Geographic, which also now have smartphone apps available that identify specific birds by shape, colour and song.

Tip #3: Snap a photo

Sanderlings heading south often stop over on Presqu'ile Beach. Photo credit: D. Bree
Sanderlings heading south often stop over on Presqu’ile Beach. Photo credit: D. Bree

Use your camera or cellphone to take pictures. A picture is invaluable if you’re having trouble making a positive identification. You can send a photo to #AskanOPNaturalist and one of Ontario Parks’ naturalists will identify it for you.

Tip #4: Explore different natural habitats

Hudsonian Godwit landing on lake
Hudsonian godwit, just one of the species of shorebird that can show up at Presqu’ile. Photo credit: D. Bree

You’ll find different species in wetlands than you’ll find on beaches. In Ontario, it’s possible to spot close to 340 species of birds, many of them along the shores of the Great Lakes.

Tip #5: Go birding with knowledgeable friends

trio of birders

Join a field naturalist club. When you visit a provincial park, ask for directions to bird-watching hotspots, or sign up for a guided walk.

Veteran birders are always willing and eager to share what they know.  You can also ask for a bird checklist at the Visitor Centre to help with identification.

Final birding advice from our naturalists:

Pilar says:

birder with binocularsDon’t feel foolish if you have trouble identifying birds at first. It can be tricky and it takes practice. The more you do it, the better you’ll get – and the more fun it will become. Over time, you’ll come to see that each species has its own particular personality.

David says:

birding checklistThe great thing about bird watching is that there are enough types to be challenging – but not so many that you get overwhelmed. And if you’re at all competitive – and who isn’t? – it’s fun to chart the different birds you see, and where and when you see them, over a season.

What’s my next step?

Why not take part in an Ontario Parks fall birding event?

shorebirds on rocks
Shorebirds of many species can be found at Presqu’ile in the fall. Photo credit: D. Bree

David says Presqu’ile Provincial Park‘s Monarchs & Migrants Weekend (September 3-4, 2016) is a can’t-miss event for bird-lovers of all sorts. This informative weekend features bird banding, monarch tagging and guided nature walks to celebrate the fall migration.

Pilar invites you to stop by Rondeau Provincial Park for a Raptor Show from the Ontario Falconry Centre (September 3, 2016)! The park also has a protected bird garden that features eight feeders and a pond where you can get up-close and personal with both common and rare species.

Other fall birding events include:

Fall challenge: take off on a birding adventure!