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Susquehanna Life

Our Natural World: Looking for a New Hobby? Now is the time to start Birding

Sep 04, 2020 11:10AM ● By Erica L. Shames
Thinking of taking up birdwatching? Where should you go? How do you even find a bird? This handy primer, based on information from the National Audubon Society, will give you the tools you need to venture into the field with confidence. 


How to find a bird

A flock of migrating Snow Geese in Lancaster County

Birds are everywhere, but you might need some help spotting them. Use these four easy steps:

  1. Stop: If you’re in a car, park and get out. Tuck away your phone, field guide and anything else except binoculars. Take a moment to clear your mind, heighten your senses and take in your surroundings.

  2. Look: Scan with efficiency and purpose. Scrutinize perches—powerlines, fence posts, tree tops— and investigate interesting shapes and silhouettes. This is the best way to spot foragers sitting in wait, like bluebirds and kestrels, and singers out in the clear, like meadowlarks. Keep an eye in the sky for flyover hawks and eagles. Look with unaided eyes first, and then try your binoculars. 

  3. Listen: The tap-tap-tapping of a woodpecker is unmistakable, and vocalizations—even the creaking of a raven—are as distinctive as visual field marks. 

  4. Repeat: After you’ve thoroughly studied the scene, it’s time to move on. Walk at a meandering pace, and keep scanning the sky and listening to bird sounds while you wander.


Know where to go

A Red-Winged Blackbird

You don’t have to stray far from home to go birding: Any green space or open water source will do. Use virtual maps to pinpoint good spots and plan your itinerary right from home. Here are more ideas. 

Refuges: There are about 560 national refuges in the U.S., covering more than 150 million acres, most of which is prime bird habitat. Pennsylvania has three: Cherry Valley National Wildlife Refuge, Erie National Wildlife Refuge and John Heinz Wildlife Refuge at Tinicum. 

Government parks: You’ll find interesting birds in most national and state parks and open spaces. The Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (dcnr.pa.gov) can help you find a state park. 

State trails: Many states have created dedicated birding trails to promote their finest birdwatching destinations. The Susquehanna River Birding and Wildlife Trail is a collection of locations where visitors can go to see birds and other wildlife in Pennsylvania. Locations include a mixture of habitat, including old growth forests, wetlands, riparian areas, lakes, grasslands and urban areas. Learn more at PaBirdingTrails.org.  

Spotting scopes at wildlife observatory overlooking migratory bird and wildlife habitat in the Erie national wildlife refuge in Crawford County

Important bird areas: The Important Bird Areas program is a massive conservation initiative by BirdLife International and Audubon. Each IBA is of particular importance for one or more species of birds, and they are all categorized by state, continental and global priority, reflecting the world’s most significant bird habitats. More information is at Audubon.org/important-bird-areas.

 eBird: Since its launch in 2002 by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and Audubon, eBird has become one of the world’s largest citizen science projects, and is now used by hundreds of thousands of birders who enter their sightings into a single database. Visit eBird.org, click on “Explore Data” and choose how you’d like to view the information. 


Do your homework

The ruffled grouse is the official state bird of Pennsylvania

Prepping for your first big birding outing means more than studying your field guide (though you should do that, too). Birding can be an adventure, but it should never be reckless. Study the American Birding Association’s set of guidelines to help you minimize your impact on birds and other wildlife when you’re in the field, and be sure you know how to keep yourself safe, as well. Finally, developing a quick pre-birding routine can save you a lot of pain in the long run: Check the elements, consider the season and look up your local species occurrences prior to any outing.


Gear up

All you need to get started on backyard birding is a field guide, a weather-proof notebook and an easy-to-use birding app. If you want to take it to the next level, binoculars are a very useful tool. 




Seven Mountains Audubon is a local chapter of the National Audubon Society, serving the Lewisburg and Union County area. To learn more about birding, birding events, and meet other birders, visit SevenMountainsAudubon.org.



Visit Pennsylvania Audubon Chapters for a complete list of Audubon Chapters in Pennsylvania.

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