5 Ways to Get Better at Birding

Birding is like anything else in life, the more you do it, the better at it you get. While practice and time in the field will certainly help, there some specific things that you can focus on that will improve your skills quickly and efficiently. If you want to know what to work on and how become the best birder you can be, this is the video for you  Here are five things you can do to make yourself a better birder.

Get Used to Range Maps

Black Vulture Range Map created by sdakotabirds.com

One of the first things to do to improve your birding abilities is to understand which birds are most likely to be in the area you’re searching in. Having a good baseline knowledge of what species will be expected to be around while you’re birding can make it easier to identify birds since you will know what the most probably species are. 

For example, if you were to see a shrike in Canada during the winter, the assumption would be that it would be a Northern Shrike since the Loggerhead Shrikes winter range doesn’t typically extend that far into the north. Another example would be a meadowlark seen in Virginia, based on range maps, it’s fairy safe to assume it would be an Eastern Meadowlark since the very similar looking Western Meadowlark isn’t normally found that dar east.

While birds do show up outside of their normal range, and therefore range alone shouldn’t be used to identify birds, it can go a long way in getting you on the right track to a postive identification.

Upgrade Equipment

Video about the benefits of birding with the Panasonic Lumix FZ 80

It’s totally possible to go birding without any equipment at all or go with a simple pair of cheap binoculars. However, some more advanced gear can make things a lot easier. Getting a better pair of binoculars can be a big advantage because of increased zoom potential and clarity. Other items can also be a major boost to your birding efforts such as spotting scopes that will allow you to get an up close look at distant birds, especially when there are big groups of them together and you want to pick through each individual. Also extremely helpful to have is a camera. It doesn’t need to have a massive lens, but something that at least allows for doc shots to be taken to reveiw birds you couldn’t identify in the field or prove to others that the rare bird you found was correctly identified. In all, getting even just slightly better optics and camera equipment can go a long way in helping you hone your birding skills.

Consider the Habitat

Marsh Wren

Habitat plays an extremely imprtant role in determining which species will be in a certain area. Knowing the preferred plants or terrain of a particular bird can make finding it much easier. Furthermore, having a good understanding of the habitat birds prefer during different times of the year can provide clues about which species to look and listen for when visiting a new place. For example, as their name would suggest, marsh wrens thrive in areas with shallow water and thick vegetation, so if you are in a marsh in their native range, it would pay to keep an eye and an ear out for this species. However, it wouldn’t make sense to be looking for a rock wren at the same location. Birds certainly show up in weird places from time to time that don’t fit with the habitat they usually prefer, but for the most part, knowing the habitat a bird is most likely found in can make any biridng trip much more efficient.

Learn the Field Marks

Cooper's hawk vs Sharp-shinned Hawk
Graphic displaying diagnostics of Cooper’s Hawk vs Sharp-shinned Hawk

Knowing what specific physical traits to look for such as shape, proportions, and colors can be instrumental in identifying birds and streamlining the identification process. For example, a small group of birds flush from the side of road and into some brush. White marks are visibile on the tails of these birds. Knowing that Dark-eyed Juncos show these white flashes, it’s easy to determine with only a seconds glance that these birds were in fact juncos. There are many similar markings and colorations that can be used to identify birds even with just a quick look, but in addition to these things, behaviors can also be quite telling. For instance, in the world of warblers, only a few of them that live in north America bob their tails frequently including palm warblers and waterthrushes. Seeing this behavior can easily elimenate most other warblers as possibilities for the bird in question, thus maknig things much easier. These sorts of things come with time in the field but can also be learned from eperienced birders and even sometimes mentioned in online or print resrouces.

Know Your Calls

YouTube Video going over how to identify common backyard bird calls

In my opinion, the single best way to improve your birding skills is to learn the calls of birds in your area. Birding by ear is an extremely valuable skill for a variety of reasons. First, it can save valuable time as instead of chasing down birds making calls only to find that they are something common that you’ve already seen, you can decide what they are without even having to look at them. Another reason knowing bird calls can be extremely useful is because it makes it much easier to identify flying birds. Often times you may not even realize a bird s flying over, but hearing the call and identifying the bird from that instead of sight can add birds to your list that you otherwise wouldn’t have been able to correctly identify or maybe even wouldn’t have know were there. In general, knowing bird calls can also help pinpoint birds of interest to get a better looks at them. When searching for a specific species, it always helps to know what it sounds like and can truly make the difference between an awesome sighting and going home without spotting your target bird.


It’s extremely rewarding to improve your birding skills. While simply going out and birding more will certainly help, focusing on these things will help dramatically elevate you to the next level. Are there any other things you found helped you to improve your birding skills? Let us know in the comments below. Thanks for watching, we’ll see you next time, on Badgerland Birding.

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