Haven't you heard - birding is the new cool, obscure thing to do. If you have an interest in studying wildlife or wildlife photography there is no easier subject than a bird. Birds are everywhere and becoming a birder only requires binoculars and a bird guide to get going. And no, birding is not just for the retired folk - birding requires a lot of practice and young people can actually hear bird calls much more effectively. We need more young birders to get involved with counts and monitoring efforts for conservation.
So where to begin?
1. Buy a pair of binoculars
If you're serious, consider investing in a good pair of waterproof 8x30s or 8x42's. You can buy Nikon prostaff bins between $200-300, or Monarchs which are around $500. Vortex are another quality brand in the medium price range. Remember you might have them well into retirement.
2. Buy a sibley field guide
Sibley is one of the best bird guide brands because of its detailed images and extensive notes about each species compared to others like National Geographic or Peterson. You can purchase Eastern or Western North America (depending on where you plan to bird) for $30 or less.
3. Download a bird guide app
Sibley also has its field guides available in app form for purchase for $20. Alternatively, a free option is Merlin Bird ID. I recommend Merlin as a solid cost-saving guide for beginners, and it has the bonus option of loading your photos and obtaining a list of potential identifications. I've tried Merlin's photo ID option on many blurry, distant photos of birds and it usually correctly identifies it.
4. Practice ID by sight in your backyard
Before learning some bird calls, you'll probably want to practice successfully identifying species by sight. The easiest way is to go for a walk with your bins and guide and practice identifying the birds you see. Start becoming familiar with your songbirds, seabirds, waterfowl, birds of prey and other groups. Get to know the species that live in your area during that time of year, because some birds migrate and others don't.
5. Create an Ebird account
Ebird is a great resource for birders for finding birding hotspots and for documenting the birds you see and hear. Once you become more confident in your ID abilities, create an Ebird profile and submit your observations - noting the species you saw, how many, and where/when you saw them. Ebird will keep track of the species you have yet to see called your "Year Needs List" so you can find out what you haven't seen yet in your area.
6. Learn your bird calls
Birds move a lot and many are cryptic. One of the benefits of birding is that birds are very vocal in the mating season and their calls are species specific. This mean that you can listen to a bird calling and identify it without seeing it. Dendroica is a great resource with dozens of audios for North American species. Practice the calls and songs for common birds you see regularly to get a handle on distinguishing between species. Warbler songs are perhaps some of the hardest to learn and require lots of practice.
7. Use Psh-ing to rustle up some birds
Ever go for a walk and hear birders going "Psh psh pshhh" toward a random bush? They may be trying to get birds to pop up and pay attention to them.