August 23, 2021

Backyard Birding: How to Spot Birds Close to Home

Katie and Gene Hamilton

Bring Binocular News
Observe birds close to home hiding in bushes and trees

Enjoy the birds close to home whether they’re outside your window, visiting or nesting nearby 

As a beginning birder there is so much to learn about our feathered friends because they’re all around us in our backyards, not always visible, but often very vocal. And that’s just it, often you can hear birds but not see them because they so cleverly blend into the tree or bush they perch in or where they have hidden their nest. So first, follow their sound and approach quietly. You may spot them with your bare eyes, but binoculars help focus on what you’re looking for. Turn the focus wheel of the binocs and adjust the lens until you get a clear sharp view of the bird.  You’ve done it, you spotted your first bird. Backyard birding is easy.

It’s not always that easy especially in a forest of tree branches, so use a visual marker – a dead tree branch or open space – to help zero in on the bird’s location. You’ll notice I suggest first finding a bird with your bare eyes, not binocs because using them effectively as a search tool can take some practice. Using a visual marker helps you to quickly find the area where you heard the bird, then use your binoculars for a much narrower view. 

Be an “early bird”

Most birders are early risers because the start of the day is when birds are active looking for food in nature, bird feeders and bird houses. So mornings are popular year round for spotting backyard birds. Every morning we check our hummingbird feeder looking for birds and we scan the trees and bushes for signs of new bird species. We look at a neighbor’s birdbath, a popular spot for birds. (We even named one of our boats “Early Bird” because we happen to wake up early, whether it’s for work or play.)  Late sleepers beware – you’re missing the best time to prowl around bird watching. Some of our friends who walk in the early morning carry binocs just so they can enjoy seeing birds along the way.

Be a Groupie

Join a birding group and enjoy being with other birders

Birding doesn’t have to be a solo sport; in a group you can enjoy the company of others and learn from them.  And there’s a learning curve you can’t beat by rubbing elbows with seasoned birders who have experience and insights especially about birds in your area. When someone spots a woodpecker,  goldfinch or blue bird and call out to others, everyone shares in the pursuit. 

You may be surprised at how many people are engaged in birdwatching where you live, we were. Look for local birding groups at city and county park systems and organizations who have regular morning walks on the weekend. Check out nearby natural wildlife refuges where you’ll often find scheduled guided birdwatching tours by experts. We’ve learned a lot from avid birders on a field trip. Many of them plan their vacations around birding events.

To find a group of birders near where you live check with the National Audubon Society. They have 23 state programs, 41 centers, 450+ local chapters, and countless events. At their website click their “Near you” page and type in your state in the “Explore the Audubon network” box to find a group and nature trail near you. 

Notice how many people interested in birding carry a bird guide and use a checklist of their sightings – on a cell phone, tablet or written in a little notebook – to keep track of the blue jays, orioles and chickadees and other birds they see. Many parks and locations are bird-friendly and devoted to birding; they often provide a useful checklist of birds commonly found there. 

At home keep a bird guide and checklist along with binoculars near the window where you look for birds so they’re handy. 

We enjoyed streaming the movie “The Big Year” with Steve Martin, Jack Black and Owen Wilson whose characters are obsessed bird watchers in a pursuit of viewing the highest number of birds in a year.

On our best-ever destination list is the Cornell Lab of Ornithology in Ithaca, New York. Their visitor center is filled with science exhibits and artwork in a 230-acre sanctuary with four miles of trails to explore. We visit their website often and are learning to use their free bird ID app to identify bird sounds. Here’s a link to the app Merlin.

After you start looking for birds in your backyard, it won’t be long before you venture out to nearby parks and trails where you’re sure to find more songbirds and other birders enjoying the company of fine feathered friends.

Are you a Bird Lover? If you are looking for remarkable limited edition prints, original artwork and books about birds, take a look at the work of Julie Zickefoose at her website We recently had the good fortune to meet Julie and share our enthusiasm for her expertise and artwork. If you read BWD magazine, the new Bird Watcher’s Digest, you’ll see the lovely cover art on the July/August 2022 edition is by Julie.


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Gene and Katie Hamilton are bird watchers who attend birding festivals and events and write about the wonders of the birding world. They are members of the Outdoor Writers Association of America.
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