So you’re interested in birds and birdwatching, but you feel a little overwhelmed by all the different species that are out there.
No problem! Just start with a few bird species in your backyard or in your local park. This is a perfect way to get into birding.
There are a lot of little brown birds out there, it’s true. That’s an actual term in the world of birding: Little Brown Birds (LBBs). Yes, they can be challenging. So can some other bird groups. But don’t trouble yourself about the difficult ID challenges in the beginning. Just focus on a handful of species you see regularly.
If you have any kind of yard, then you can probably just go sit outside for a little while. Notice who shows up. This is a great way to start.
You will eventually come to recognize the differences among even those Little Brown Birds, if you’re paying attention.
You don’t even need to match species names to your birds. In the beginning it’s enough that you can tell a few of them apart. For example, you may have “That one with the black eye mask,” or “The little, yellow guy with the black bars on his wings.” You can match birds to their official names later.
Some birds are easier than others to recognize, naturally, but you will develop the eye for telling the ‘easy’ species apart sooner than you think. The skills you develop in your backyard will be really useful when you apply them further afield.
Hopefully you have some binoculars to help with all of this. You might also want to take notes or pictures, or do some sketches, which can really help you learn to ID birds.
Chances are you have a regular ‘cast of characters’ in your backyard. These are species that hang out near your home almost every day (depending on the season, of course). Some of them you may know already. Once you pay a little more intention and learn to identify these common birds, you will be able to spot the less common species when they show up. You may find that bird diversity around your home is much higher than you imagined.
As you are looking at those backyard birds, be sure to also listen to them. You’ll begin to associate the sounds they make with what they look like. This added dimension of birdwatching is a lot of fun!
If you don’t have much going on in your backyard, that’s okay. There are likely some birds in your neighborhood or maybe at a nearby park or natural area.
You can spend a little time in these places noting which birds are common. Most of us have somewhere we can go to get to know the local birds. That’s one the great things about birdwatching: you can find birds just about anywhere!
Besides just hanging out in your backyard, passively waiting to see what birds show up, you can take some steps to bring the birds to you.
The most obvious choice is feeding birds, you can put out some bird feeders and many birds should be attracted to them.You can do this to bring birds to you, so you can observe them up close. You’ll get to see their behaviors, hear their sounds, etc.
Also, you can put out bird baths. Birds need to bathe just like you and me. A shallow water bath will attract birds as a place to bathe and drink.
You could also put out nest boxes. If you’re lucky, birds will raise their young in your boxes and you’ll get the next generation of backyard birds being born right there on your property.
Another thing you can do is bring native plants into your yard. Non-native plants are better than none, but native plants are the best for creating habitat that will attract birds. Shrubs, trees, ground cover, and flowers that naturally grow wild in your area will invite birds and other wildlife into your backyard. You can create your own little bird/nature sanctuary!
Starting in your backyard, you can save yourself from being overwhelmed as a new birdwatcher. There are about 10,000 species of birds in the world but you can just focus on a few in the beginning.
With any new skill or hobby, it makes the most sense to start simple, start small. The amazing diversity of bird species on Earth should be something that awes you and delights you. If you ease into birding the right way, you’ll hopefully be motivated to push further and further as you learn to identify more species. Your backyard birds and all of the species you come to know become like little, familiar friends. When you have migrants that leave for part of the year and then come back it will be like welcoming home old friends.