5 Tips for Better Birdwatching This Summer, According to Pros

Birdwatching, also known as birding, is a popular hobby that allows people to observe and identify wild birds in their natural habitats. As summer approaches, many birders eagerly anticipate warmer weather and longer days that provide prime birdwatching conditions. During the summer breeding season, birds are more active and vocal as they build nests, raise young, and defend territories. To help birdwatchers make the most of summer birding opportunities, we have compiled tips from experienced birders and ornithologists. Follow this expert advice for a more enjoyable and productive summer of birdwatching.

Use the Right Optics

Having a good pair of binoculars and/or a spotting scope is essential for successful bird identification and observation. When purchasing optics, invest in the best quality you can afford. Higher priced binoculars generally produce brighter, sharper images and are built to withstand frequent use. Look for binoculars that are waterproof and fogproof as well as provide adequate magnification and field of view for birdwatching. 8×42 or 10×42 models are recommended as they offer a balance of magnification, stability, and portability. For spotting scopes, consider a 20-60x model mounted on a sturdy tripod.

Tips for using binoculars:

  • Adjust the interpupillary distance so only one circular image is visible when looking through both oculars.
  • Use the right eyeglass adjustment if you wear glasses.
  • Start scanning with the binoculars at a low magnification, then zoom in on details.
  • Practice focusing on stationary objects at various distances.
  • Hold the binoculars steady and flush against your eyes to prevent image shake.
  • Use a binocular harness or strap to help support the weight during longer periods of use.

Making effective use of your optics takes practice, but is key to improving birdwatching abilities. Study field guides and online bird photos to become faster at recognizing key field marks. With quality optics and improved birding skills, your bird identification confidence will soar.

Brush Up on Songs and Calls

Learning to identify birds by sound is an invaluable skill for any birder. During breeding season, singing and calling peaks as birds try to attract mates and defend territories. Some species can be difficult to see in dense foliage, but often give away their presence through vocalizations. Brushing up on songs and calls will help you detect more species, including those that can be tricky to spot.

There are several ways to improve your birding ear:

  • Use audio field guides – Many field guides now come with companion audio recordings that provide sample sounds for each species. Listening to these while reading the descriptions connects the sounds with visual IDs. Cornell Lab’s Merlin app also has an excellent built-in bird sound database.
  • Try bird song and call CDs – Numerous CD compilations feature the most common vocalizations of backyard and regional specialties. Playing these recordings on repeat will help sharpen your memory. Mnemonic tricks can also help link sounds and species.
  • Listen to recordings online – Websites like xeno-canto allow you to search for recordings by species. You can browse through numerous examples to get a sense of variation.
  • Practice in the field – No substitute for first-hand listening. Make note of unknown songs and calls and try to track down the origins. Over time, your ear will attune to nuances.
  • Use sound identification technology – Apps like Merlin Bird ID and Larkwire leverage machine learning to help ID species by sound. They “listen” to an unknown song then provide possible matches.

A little bit of sound study will go a long way towards boosting your overall birdwatching experience. Soon you’ll be picking out warblers, thrushes, wrens, and more just by their distinctive melodies.

Pack Smart for Summer Birding

Summer weather brings its own considerations for birding gear and supplies. As temperatures rise, you’ll want to be prepared with these birdwatching essentials:

  • Sun protection – Hat, sunglasses, lightweight long sleeves/pants, and sunscreen allow you to stay out while avoiding sunburn.
  • Insect repellent – Bugs can be bothersome on warm days. Spray or wipes help repel mosquitoes and ticks.
  • Water – Stay hydrated with plenty of water in a packable bottle or hydration reservoir. Freeze overnight for cool refreshment.
  • Snacks/lunch – Pack high-energy bars, nuts, fruits, and sandwiches to fuel up during an active day outside.
  • Field guide – Regional guidebooks or mobile apps provide handy species reference in the field. Stash in backpack or load digital version.
  • Notebook/pen – Jot notes, draw field sketches, and keep a birding log to refer back to. Rite in the Rain notebooks withstand wet weather.
  • Small towel – Useful for wiping sweat, dirt, sunscreen, or as an emergency seat cover. Lightweight, quick-dry towels are perfect.
  • First aid – Essentials like bandages, gauze, anti-itch cream, and medication for emergencies. Tweezers and tape also come in handy.
  • Zipper seal bags – Stash gear or delicate items like phones in waterproof bags in case of rain. Doubles as extra trash bags.
  • Extra layers – Summer storms can blow in unexpectedly. Packable windbreaker, fleece, or rain jacket offer insurance.

Choosing the right gear will let you hike, paddle, or climb in pursuit of birds while enjoying personal comfort. Maximize your time in the field by planning ahead.

Use Proper Birdwatching Ethics

While summer promises boundless birding adventures, it’s important to remain conscientious of responsible birding practices. Prioritizing ethics protects birds and contributes to better experiences. Some key guidelines include:

  • Avoid disturbing active nests – Parent birds are sensitive while incubating eggs and raising fledglings. Watch nests from a distance using optics.
  • Keep voices down and movements minimal – Loud noises and sudden motions startle birds. Be stealthy and whisper when sharing sightings.
  • Limit use of calls/songs – Only use sparingly as “pishing” can stress territorial birds and expose nests.
  • Stay on designated trails – Straying into closed areas or off-trail tramples vegetation and ground-nesting birds.
  • Do not harass birds – Never chase birds or repeatedly flush them. Sensitive species may abandon nests if they feel threatened.
  • Keep attractions natural – Don’t use bait, playback devices, or other artificial measures to manipulate bird behavior.
  • Respect private property – Avoid trespassing onto private land. Always obtain permission before entering.
  • Pick up litter – Dispose of trash properly, including discarded fishing line which can entangle wildlife.
  • Support conservation efforts – Join clubs, volunteer, or donate to help fund habitat and research initiatives.

Being an ethical, responsible birder fosters goodwill within the birding community. Setting a good example will also inspire new generations to enjoy birds considerately.

Explore Less Familiar Habitats and Locations

It’s easy to fall into predictable patterns when visiting favorite birding hotspots, but venturing further afield can yield new discoveries. Seek out habitats and locations you don’t normally check to spur your sense of adventure and expand your observational skills. Some ideas include:

  • Stop at wetland preserves or patches of woods in unfamiliar counties or townships. Each can host an exclusive suite of birds.
  • Cruise down rural back roads. Scan fence lines, fields, farm buildings and pockets of habitat.
  • Inquire with land managers about lesser known natural areas. Many smaller reserves have limited public access but great habitat.
  • Check elevated vantage points like ridge tops, fire towers, or tall dunes that offer views across landscapes.
  • Explore downstream sections of creeks and rivers. Search for specialist species in bayous and tidal flats.
  • Investigate industrial wastelands. Coastal waters, quarries, treatment plants, and dredge ponds can attract rare vagrants.
  • Visit off-the-beaten-path parks or municipal green spaces in urban settings. migration hotspots.
  • Peruse eBird, list servs, and rare bird alerts for recent reports of unusual sightings. Many can be “chased down” if still being seen.
  • Join coordinated county or state-wide bird counts that methodically cover defined areas each year.

Visiting new areas keeps birding exciting. You never know when a casual stop in an overlooked locale will result in a personal sighting record or lifer photograph.

5 Tips for Better Birdwatching This Summer, According to Pros

  1. Invest in quality binoculars and learn how to use them properly. Good optics makes observing and identifying birds much easier.
  2. Improve your skills with bird songs and calls. Knowing vocalizations leads to more detections and positive IDs.
  3. Pack smart for summer comfort. Sun protection, hydration, insect repellent, layered clothing and other essentials lead to better days afield.
  4. Follow ethical birdwatching practices. Being mindful of birds’ well-being and respecting habitats preserves natural behaviors.
  5. Explore new locations and habitats. Seeking diversity and adventure helps you experience and learn more about birds.

Frequently Asked Questions About Summer Birdwatching

What are some top spots for summer birdwatching?

Some prime summer birding locations include:

  • Wetlands – Marshes, swamps, and bog provide habitat for herons, bitterns, rails, terns, ducks, and shorebirds.
  • Rivers and riparian areas – Look for swallows, flycatchers, and orioles along shorelines.
  • Meadows and grasslands – Bobolinks, savannah sparrows, and grasshopper sparrows breed in open fields.
  • Mountain ridges and peaks – Excellent for finding montane breeders like American pipit and white-throated sparrow.
  • Coastlines – Shorebirds, gulls, pelicans, and other seabirds gather along beaches and tidal areas.
  • Nearby parks, nature preserves, and open spaces – Don’t overlook potential hotspots in your own county.

What time of day is best for summer birdwatching?

The early morning hours just after sunrise are ideal. Birds are most active singing, foraging, and defending territories. Their hunger makes them more likely to come out in the open. Lighting is also optimal for viewing. Late afternoons are another window of activity before roosting. Midday heat suppresses activity, though some crepuscular species emerge.

What clothing and gear is best for summer birdwatching?

Light, breathable clothing in light colors along with a sun hat help beat the heat. Quick-dry synthetics and convertible zip-off pants work well. Don sturdy hiking boots or shoes with ankle support. Carry plenty of drinking water and protection like sunscreen and insect repellent. Other useful items include binoculars, field guides, notebooks, multi-tools, and first aid kits.

How can I stay safe while birding in summer?

  • Avoid heat exhaustion by staying hydrated, resting in shade, and dressing appropriately.
  • Use sun protection including hats, sunglasses, and sunscreen to prevent sunburn.
  • Watch out for venomous snakes that may be active in warm weather.
  • Keep insect repellent handy to prevent bites that could transmit diseases.
  • Tell someone your plans including location and expected return time.
  • Carry a first aid kit and cell phone in case of emergencies.
  • Take caution near bodies of water where footing may be slippery or uneven.

With some common sense precautions, birders can focus on the joy of summer birding.

What are the best ways to identify confusing warblers?

Warblers can be notoriously tricky to identify, especially females and immatures. Here are some tips:

  • Note habitat to narrow possibilities by range. Learn the species associated with each.
  • Observe leg and feet color which can differentiate certain species.
  • Check for wing bars, eye rings, and other distinctive field marks.
  • Listen for distinctive chips and songs. Associate these with visual clues.
  • Watch feeding behaviors and movements like tail flicks.
  • Look at overall structure – size, bill shape, wing length, tail length.
  • Pay attention to range and breeding status to rule out rarities.
  • Compare similar species side-by-side in a field guide when unsure.
  • Take lots of field notes and photos to review later if identification remains uncertain.

What are ways to attract more birds to my backyard in summer?

  • Provide a water source like a birdbath, fountain, or small wildlife pond.
  • Landscape with native plants and trees that provide food sources like seeds, berries, and nectar.
  • Avoid or limit pesticide use which reduces insects that birds feed on.
  • Put up nesting boxes suited to cavity nesters like chickadees, bluebirds, wrens, and swallows.
  • Let grasses and wildflowers grow which provide cover and allow natural food sources to thrive.
  • Offer supplemental food like feeders stocked with nuts, seeds, and fruit. Clean regularly to avoid disease.
  • Install roosting pockets or birdhouses for shelter, especially if yard lacks dense bushes or trees.

Providing quality, sustainable habitat tailored to birds’ needs will create an enticing refuge.


The arrival of summer opens up exciting new opportunities to observe birds in breeding plumage, listen to songs and calls, discover rarities, and simply be out in nature more often. Follow this advice from seasoned birders to help you gear up, brush up skills, use proper ethics, explore new places, and make the most of the warmer months ahead. Improve your field knowledge and skills this summer to gain a greater appreciation of birds along with memories to last until next year.