What is birding?
Did you know that a third of Wisconsinites over the age of 16 identify as "birders"? We think that's awesome! If you love watching birds, you can consider yourself a birder. The definition of this term is broad, diverse, and inclusive! Maybe you enjoy watching urban birds from your office window, or follow the habits of backyard birds from the comfort of your kitchen table. Or maybe you're a voracious "lister" who will jump in a car at a moments notice to see a rare migrant. No matter your style, the world of birding has something for you.
Birding is defined as the observation of birds in their natural habitat as a hobby, and "birder" is the name for individuals who enjoy this hobby in all of its many forms. There's no right or wrong way to bird (yep, it's a verb, too!), though there is a birder's code of ethics to birding. One of our goals at Madison Audubon is to encourage birders of all types, ages, and skill levels in their pursuit of this fantastic hobby.
But birding is more than just a hobby: according to the US Fish & Wildlife Service, it's a huge part of who we are culturally, and birding contributes significantly to our economy as well. Did you know...
- 46.7 million Americans enjoy watching and feeding birds (Wisconsin’s percentage of birders ranks second highest in the nation, tied with West Virginia)
- $107 billion is spent on birdwatching equipment and travel in the U.S.
- 666,000 jobs are created due to birdwatching.
- $13 billion in local, state, and federal tax revenue results from birdwatching.
- 17.8 million Americans travel to see birds, putting millions into local economies.
Below is a short compilation of suggested birding sites, gear, and tips (don't forget to check out our birding resources page, too). No matter what your style, remember that birding is for everyone!
One of the beautiful things about birding is the fact that you don't need anything to pursue it as a hobby! Just your eyes and ears. That said, many find that their birding experience is enhanced by optics (binoculars or spotting scopes to bring distant birds into clearer focus) and a few minor outdoor essentials. Below are some helpful resources that can help you choose great gear that's perfect for your personal birding style.
- 6 Steps to Choosing a Pair of Binoculars You'll Love (via All About Birds)
- The Best Binoculars for Every Birder (via Audubon.org)
- The Audubon Guide to Birding Gear (via Audubon.org)
FIELD GUIDES, song identification, and more
It's fun to observe birds, but knowing exactly what you're looking at is often the beginning birder's biggest challenge. Since everyone learns differently, we can't recommend just one approach to bolstering your bird ID. Plus, bird ID is complex - from colors to body shape to habitat type, there are many clues that can help lead you to a solid bird identification (check out Audubon.org's article, Tips for Identifying Birds)
To get you started, we can suggest our favorite field guides and apps. Just head over to our BIRDING RESOURCES page to see our top picks!
Get excited about the world of birding
When we can't actually go birding, the next best thing is to immerse ourselves in a great bird-related article, book, show, or movie. Staff picks at Madison Audubon include the following:
- The Birdist's Guide to Birding - a humorous online column on the quirks of our hobby (via Audubon.org)
- The Life of Birds - a must-watch BBC series about the amazing evolution of birds around the globe
- Peterson's Field Guide to Molt - an uber-bird nerd will love this book, which helps you distinguish confusing feather pattern changes due to a bird's age, etc.
- The Beak of the Finch - A Pulitzer Prize winning non-fiction story about Darwin's finches and groundbreaking evolution research (by Jonathan Weiner)
- The Big Year: A Tale of Man, Nature, and Fowl Obsession - An entertaining look at one of the wackiest competitions in birding: the quest to find as many species as possible in one calendar year (there's also a movie!)
- Bernd Heinrich books: Heinrich is a writer who transforms nature's minutia into amazing stories of survival, evolution, and wonder. A few of our favorites are: