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7 Great Gifts for Beginner Birdwatchers

I have "green-fingers," and love my garden. I enjoy watching wildlife and being outdoors.

Western Bluebird chicks in a nestbox.

Western Bluebird chicks in a nestbox.

7 Gift Ideas for the Birder in Your Life

Make a birder happy with these great gift ideas. Whether they are serious twitchers or just like to feed birds and watch them in the garden, here are some ideas for presents they will love.

  1. Birdwatching binoculars
  2. Bird books and apps
  3. Bird feeders and food
  4. Nest boxes and bird houses
  5. Wildlife cameras
  6. Membership of a birding organization
  7. Bird-themed calendars and diaries

1. Birdwatching Binoculars

Binoculars are essential for this hobby, and they can range in cost from as little as $30 to over several thousand dollars. For someone just starting birdwatching, you should expect to pay around $150 for a decent starter pair. The binoculars must be comfortable to use, so even though they're a gift, it may be a good idea to take the recipient with you when you're buying. It’s a bit like being fitted for a pair of specs; everyone’s face shape is slightly different. The store assistant will be able to guide you through the best type of optics to buy.

For wildlife watching, eight times magnification is usually best, so look for pairs that are 8 x 32 or 8 x 42. The latter number refers to the width of the objective lens, and the larger it is, the brighter the image will be. However, the larger the lens width, the heavier the weight of the binoculars. If you're planning to carry binoculars for an extended period of time, consider getting a harness to reduce the strain on your neck. The video below will help you understand the numbers on binoculars, and guide you to the best type for bird-watching.

Understanding Binoculars: Magnification

2. Bird Books and Birdsong Apps

Birdwatching is all about understanding birds and their behavior. A good birder needs is to be able to visually (sight) and aurally (sound) identify species. A field guide like the National Geographic Field Guide to the Birds of North America is a good one to buy. Its clear illustrations make the identification of unfamiliar birds straightforward. There are similar guides for countries around the world; make sure you buy the birding book that relates to your locality.

How Do You Know Which Bird Is Singing?

Using binoculars and seeing a bird is only half of the experience. An seasoned birdwatcher can also identify species by their song. Being able to recognize individual birdsongs comes with experience. You need to show patience and actively observe to gain this skill. Ideally, beginners should go out with an experienced birder. If that’s not possible, I suggest you download a bird song app to refer to when you’re out and about. I like the Wild Bird Songs app. It has more than 20 North American wild bird species and makes it easier to identify them in the field.

3. Bird Feeders and Food

For a low-cost gift that will be really appreciated, I recommend a soda bottle bird feeder kit. They’re easy to assemble, and birds love them. You’ll need an empty plastic soda bottle, some birdseed, and less than half an hour to make your own affordable wild bird feeding station. They’re a good way to get kids interested and involved in nature. If you use a variety of seed types you'll attract lots of different birds in even the most urban locations. These bird feeders and their visitors are great fun, and both beginner and seasoned birdwatchers will happily spend hours watching them.

Birds love sunflower seeds, thistle seeds, and peanuts. Each type of seed and nut requires a different beak size to open, so a mixture of food types will encourage visits from many different bird species.

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4. Nest Boxes and Bird Houses

Birds are very particular about where they set up home. Nailing a nest box to a tree in your garden doesn’t guarantee that a female will nest there. Broody fowl put a lot of effort into hatching and rearing their chicks, so they’re only going to choose a place where they feel safe. The nest must be out of reach of predators, it must be weatherproof, and it must “feel right.”

Some species like to nest high up in the trees, while others prefer the ground. Some like completely enclosed homes and they nest inside hollow tree trunks. For others, a shallow, untidy cluster of twigs and grass is sufficient. If you buy or build a bird house, be sure to research the likes and dislikes of the species you’re hoping to attract before you spend your money. Having said that, if you have the skill, a handcrafted bird house makes an excellent and very personal gift for a loved one.

Identify Common American Backyard Birds

5. Wildlife Cameras

Photography and wildlife watching often go hand-in-hand. A true enthusiast wants to share their excitement about nature with others, and one way to do this is by taking pictures. There are so many different types of cameras, as technology changes all the time, that I am not going to make a recommendation for one specific camera here.

A gift voucher may be preferable to buying the wrong piece of equipment. If you don’t mind your gift not being a surprise, you can ask the intended recipient what they need for their hobby. They may want a special kind of lens, or a new tripod, or even an upgrade on their existing binoculars or scope telescope.

Make sure you have a budget in mind and stick to it, otherwise you could end up spending thousands of dollars when you had planned on no more than a few hundred. You may even catch the birdwatching bug yourself!

6. Membership of a Birding Organization

This is the gift that keeps on giving. Buying a gift membership of an avian charitable 501(c)(3) organization not only makes you feel good at the time of purchase but will also make the recipient think of you throughout the year. Bird charities own and manage large areas of land as wildlife reserves. They provide educational resources for children and adults to learn about birds, nature, and conservation in general.

They often have local activity groups which run sociable birding events exploring the countryside. Their websites are mines of information about wild birds and their habitats. If you can afford to give a Life Membership to a young person, you are giving them a gift that can keep them healthy and engaged with the outdoors for many years to come.

7. Bird-Themed Calendars and Diaries

For the birder who has everything, a bird-themed calendar or diary can make an ideal Christmas or birthday present. There are two main types—those with beautiful photos of nature but without much detailed information to go with them and those which are less glossy but contain lots of practical twitcher’s tips on how to find rare or unusual bird species. In my view, the best of these seasonal gifts are those produced by bird charities and nonprofits, and you’ll be supporting a good cause by buying them.

The ABC (American Bird Conservancy), the ABA (American Birding Association), the RSPB (Royal Society for the Protection of Birds), and the BTO (British Trust for Ornithology) are all involved in encouraging birdwatchers and fundraise to support wildlife conservation.

What Is the Dawn Chorus?

The dawn chorus is a natural event that happens every morning while most of us are still asleep. It’s an orchestra of birdsong; nature’s get-ready-for-the-day-ahead cacophony of sound. It’s too soon in the day for most humans to be out and about, so there’s very little traffic noise. The birdsong is clear and easy to hear. It’s a good time to learn to distinguish between the calling notes of different species.

  • For the dawn chorus, your ears are your primary tool.
  • Check what time sunrise is expected and plan your outing in advance.
  • Plan to start listening to the chorus at least one hour before sunrise.
  • Wrap up warm as night temperatures are usually colder than daytime.
  • Take a torchlight so that you don’t trip over tree-roots on the way to your observation point.
  • Once in position, stay still and keep quiet.
  • Listen, don’t talk or whisper.

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