Birding on a Budget: A Complete Guide for Kids and Adults


Bird watching has recently grown in popularity with kids and adults looking to connect more with nature. Not only can you learn about the birds in your area, but you can also meet new people who share your interest in bird watching. While it may seem like you need expensive and high-powered equipment to bird watch, this is not the reality. You can easily bird watch, and enjoy your new hobby, without breaking the bank.

Getting Started (Bird watching basics)

Before you go out on your first bird walk or bird watching adventure, it is important to go over the basics. According to South Dakota State Parks, the best place to bird watch is in your local state park. Research the area of the park that is best for birdwatching and make sure to dress appropriately for the season. You can also research birds that will be around, depending on the time of year.

Gear to bring with you may include binoculars, water, snacks, insect repellant, sunscreen, and a first-aid kit. You can also bring a camera if you would like.

Bird Watching Nebraska also advises you to invest in a field guide to birds. You can find a variety of bird guides at your local bookstore or online. If you are new to birdwatching, invest in a basic guide like Birds of North America: A Guide to Field Identification by Golden Field Guides and St. Martin’s Press.

For more information, visit The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission: Bird watching basics.

Bird Identification

Once you get out into the field and start finding birds, trying to identify them may seem like a daunting task. The All About Birds website has 4 key ways to quickly identify birds you see on your treks: size and shape, color pattern, behavior, and habitat. They give several examples of these four keys and how they work with a black-capped chickadee, cedar waxwing, and killdeer.

Once you have the 4 basic keys to identify birds, you can include more pieces to use to identify them with, as is shown in a presentation from the Wood-Pawcatuck Watershed Association. Other elements used to identify birds might be field markings on certain areas of the body or the type of song the bird has. It is recommended that you watch the birds more than the book. Watching the birds and listening to them will help you to learn to identify them eventually even without the book.

For more bird watching ideas, go to Bird Sleuth: Teaching bird ID.

Attracting Birds to Your Home

If you are unable to go out on bird walks due to issues such as weather or season, you can do things at home to attract birds to your window and backyard for watching. While putting out feeders and water are obvious and simple ways to attract birds, there are also additional small tips and tricks that the National Wildlife Federation suggests doing:

  • Make sure birds know there is water nearby, especially with migratory birds that pass through. Adding a small fountain, bubblers, or drips can alert birds that there is water, thus attracting them to it much easier.
  • Use native plants as food sources whenever possible. You can also supplement other foods with feeders, but make sure to have a large variety as different birds eat different things.
  • Make sure to leave food on the ground as some species do not land on feeders to eat.
  • Birds will have a “staging area” where they hide and check out the surroundings before going to the feeder. So, place feeders near these areas, but be aware of cats who sometimes hide in the bushes to ambush birds.

The Ohio Department of Natural Resources has a bird feeder menu for winter and summer birds.

Another good source for information is the US Fish and Wildlife Service: Backyard birding.

Selecting Affordable Optics

When you think of bird watching gear, it is always binoculars. Binoculars are probably the most important piece of gear needed for this hobby. Birmingham Audubon says that gear for beginners does not need to be expensive.

Small entry-level binoculars work best for beginners, so it is easier to get used to using them. A pair costing between $75-$100 may be best, but you can also find them for a lower price. When looking for a size, pay attention to magnification and object diameter. Higher magnification doesn’t always mean better, so it is best to test the binoculars first before purchasing.

The Wisconsin Society for Ornithology has a detailed list of what to consider when looking for and purchasing binoculars or scopes. If you will be doing long range watching, then finding a scope might be the best choice. These are usually a choice for intermediate or advanced bird watchers. Scope and body design, tripod use, and type of objective lens are some of the considerations when looking for a scope that’s right for you.

To learn more, visit National Audubon Society: How to choose your binoculars.

Resources related to binoculars

If you need more information on how to purchase, research, and use binoculars for bird watching, please consider some of the links below.

Tips for Birding without Binoculars

While most societies strongly recommend using binoculars for bird watching, doing so without binoculars and other gear is absolutely possible.

Feeder Watch suggests bird counting using your feeder, and reporting it to your local bird societies. This is a great way to help with recording the bird population.

Building a backyard habitat for birds is another great way to watch birds up close from your windows. Cornell University has a comprehensive pamphlet on how to create the perfect garden for birds. Research bird-friendly plants, like mulberry trees, spruces, and staghorn sumac. Provide hollow trees for private sanctuaries, and leave dead trees where they are as they provide insect meal sources for birds. Also, have available water nearby for drinking and bathing.

Bird Watching as a Family

Bird watching is a great way to get the whole family outside and enjoying nature. Check out your local state parks for organized bird walks or nature tours. You can also check out your local Audubon society or museum for birdwatch outings, such as the American Museum of Natural History‘s bird walks in Central Park.

The Inland Press Association recommends taking your children out for bird watching in your area. You can teach your children about the local birds, what they eat, and how to say their names. This is also a great opportunity to appreciate or learn to appreciate nature, and get your children interested in biology and natural sciences. If there is a type of bird that they would like to see but have not seen yet, research its favorite food and environment, then re-create it in your backyard.

For more ideas, go to The Great Backyard Bird Count: Official site.

Birding Resources for Kids

Gets the kids involved! The following resources can help to get you started.

Additional Resources

If you would still like to learn more, consider visiting the following links:

Birding Pal has several links that you can look through at Birdwatching links for traveling birders.

The American Birding Association discusses ethical bird watching at Birding ethics.

FRRCSJ discusses the benefits of bird watching for children at Bird watching helps children.