woman looking through binoculars

3 ways to level up your birding

Today’s post comes from marketing specialist and birding enthusiast, Tanya Berkers. 

When Ontario Parks signed on as a supporter of the third Ontario Breeding Bird Atlas, I eagerly volunteered on one of the organizing committees.

I love birding, and the Atlas is an important volunteer-dependent project that supports conservation and environmental policy across the entire province.

I wanted to contribute to the Atlas both behind the scenes and as an active data collector.

There is just one problem: I am not a strong birder, and have lots of gaps in my knowledge!

American goldfinch
American goldfinch

The good news is that there are many tools available to help me — and you — take our birding skills to the next level.

Whether you’re completely new to the hobby or looking to improve existing skills, here are some of the best tricks and tools I’ve found to level up my birding ability:

1. Learn from the experts

There is nothing like spending time with a pro.

Watch for birding programs offered by your local provincial park’s Discovery Program or nature club.

Many birding and naturalist organizations offer free webinars that focus on specific aspects of birding.

staff and visitor looking in guide

If podcasts are more your style, check out The Warblers by Birds Canada, Songbirding, or one of the many other birding podcasts available.

Or, you can follow nature organizations (such as your favourite park) and birders on social media.

If you want to contribute to the Atlas in 2022, start off on the right foot by joining their Year Two Kickoff Event on April 23 and 24. To join, sign up for the Atlas on their website.

There are also recordings of previous Atlas events available on their YouTube channel.

Osprey
Osprey

The Atlas has also collected some fantastic online learning resources. My personal favourite is Dendroica, which has lots of images and recordings of birds in addition to a quiz function.

2. Try out some new apps

I own a great field guide, but I don’t always have it with me. If you’re a smartphone user there are some amazing free tools that will make your life easier.

The Audubon Bird Guide by the National Audubon Society

This guide covers 800 North American species with images, sounds, and range maps.

visitor taking photo

Another option is Merlin Bird ID by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology.

BirdNET

It can be frustrating when you hear a bird, but the song or call isn’t familiar.

One of my new favourite apps can help! BirdNET allows you to record the sound, then uses artificial intelligence to identify the species for you.

Tennessee warbler
Tennessee warbler

It isn’t always correct (the app will tell you how confident it is in its result), but it has helped me grow more confident in birding by ear.

Merlin has this feature as well.

Nature Counts

Nature Counts is the app for contributing data directly to the third Ontario Breeding Bird Atlas. You’ll need to register for the Atlas first.

This helps with the third item on this list…

3. Gamification

I’ve been able to tap into my own competitive streak by setting personal challenges.

person looking through binoculars

How many days in a row can I create a Nature Counts list during my lunchtime walk? Is there an under-surveyed Atlas square nearby where I can double the number of survey hours?

You can start by focusing on the species that are easy to identify.

If you spot an American Crow carrying nest materials, a House Wren singing outside your window over the past week, or a Mourning Dove nesting in the hanging basket on your porch, the Atlas wants to know!

Mourning Dove
Mourning Dove

The more time you spend outside and actively looking at birds, the faster your skills will improve.

Don’t be afraid to “wing” it!

Even with all the resources available to me, I sometimes become discouraged and self-conscious when I’m birding with people who are vastly more knowledgeable than myself.

Canada Jay
Canada Jay

It can be hard to share what you’ve found with other birders or on birding apps when you’re worried about being wrong.

But I do my best to remember that everyone makes mistakes.

group birding

Like any discipline, there is always more to learn. In my experience, other birders are supportive and encouraging, and of course, birding should always be fun!

There has never been a better time to be a birder. It’s an accessible hobby that can be done anywhere by anyone and doesn’t require much equipment.

person looking through binoculars

Birding can connect you to nature, improve your mental health, and is a great way to make friends in the welcoming and ever-growing Ontario birding community.

As we head into the second season of the Ontario Breeding Bird Atlas, I hope you consider leveling up your birding skills and pitching in to this enormous team project.

Ready give these birding tips a “fly”?