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How to start birdwatching

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Birdwatching is becoming an increasingly popular in the UK and is an interest that you can enjoy throughout the year. You don’t need to be an expert to appreciate it either – whether you’re simply watching the visitors to your bird table, or venturing out to a nature reserve, all you need to get started is a pair of binoculars, an illustrated bird guide, and a little bit of patience. It's an ideal hobby for families because not only will kids be fascinated by the wide variety of birds around them, but it will also help teach them about the importance of local wildlife. Follow this simple guide and start enjoying our fascinating feathered friends.

Step 1: Make notes

When you first spot a bird make sure you don’t immediately dash for your bird book. Instead, it’s a good idea to use a notebook to keep a record of your sightings. Take a few moments to watch the bird and jot down some simple notes on its appearance – you might even want to make a quick sketch to keep track of any interesting markings. Don’t forget that the time you have while watching the bird is limited as you never know how long it will remain in one place before flying away.

Step 2: Listen to their song

It may sound like something only an expert would do, but it’s a good idea to listen to the bird’s song or calls. Every species has its own distinct vocalisation, and they provide one of the best ways to identify different types of birds. Listening to a bird’s song and associating it with a specific species is a lot easier than you might think it is, and you’ll soon find that you can identify different birds just by the sounds they make before you even see them.

There are plenty of CDs available with recordings of different birdsongs on them, so as your passion for birdwatching grows it might be a good idea to check them out to help further your knowledge.

Step 3: Identifying different birds

When trying to identify a bird, start by taking a general look at its shape and the length of the tail, wings and legs. Try and estimate its size based on birds that you already know – for example, is it bigger than a robin or smaller than a pigeon? Start your identification of the bird at the head – look at the beak to see if it is straight or curved. Next, look for any distinctive facial markings or feathered crests before moving along the body and looking for stripes or patterns. If you’re able to see the feet, check to see whether they are webbed or just talons.

Another way to identify birds is to watch how they move in flight – look to see whether they glide gracefully, or hop from branch to branch.

Step 4: Respect the birds

The most important thing to remember is that you should avoid disturbing the birds and their habitats just to get a better view. The birds’ interests should always come first, so make sure you use binoculars so that you can view them from afar without startling them.

Top tips:

  • Bird tables are a brilliant way of attracting more birds to your garden. Just scatter a little bird feed on top, then sit back and wait for new visitors to come along and eat.
  • If you want to attract a broad range of birds to your garden, try putting different food in your feeders – all species have their own specific taste, so more variety will appeal to more birds.

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