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Summer Birding Gear

Be Prepared for Summer Birding With the Right Tools


Sunny Day

Birders must prepare for sun exposure on summer birding hikes.

Eric Epps

Long days give birders much more time for birding in summer, but are you well equipped for the season? Having the proper tools, clothing and equipment for summer birding is essential to make the most of every birding opportunity, no matter how hot or stormy the season may be.

Basic Gear in Summer

Summer birding requires the same tools as birding at any time of year, but slight adjustments to those tools can make them even more effective during the hottest season.

  • Optics: Both birding binoculars and spotting scopes can be useful in summer, and keeping them in a light-colored case helps protect them from excessive heat that may warp barrels or loosen lenses. Choosing models with extra coatings to minimize glare or prevent fogging can also be helpful in summer's humidity.

  • Field Guide: The best field guide for summer will include not only each bird's breeding plumage, but will also have examples of juvenile birds and descriptions that can help with bird nest identification.

  • Field Bag: A summer bag should be a lighter but still neutral color, and canvas bags will naturally ventilate better to keep equipment cool. Waterproof bags are a good idea for birding in wet areas, and bags that include pockets to hold water bottles will be even more helpful for summer birding.

  • Hat: A summer birding hat should have a wide brim and a high crown with mesh ventilation to keep the head cool.

  • Camera: A camera can help birders more easily capture each bird they see, and a summer camera should have settings suitable for different light settings, including bright sunny days as well as dappled shade and overcast conditions.

  • Notebook: A small notebook for jotting down sightings or making quick sketches of birds is essential for birders who keep a life list, and a summer notebook should have thick pages that won't easily wrinkle or tear in humid conditions.

  • Water: A well-prepared birder carries water to stay hydrated in every season, but summer birding requires larger water bottles or a hiking hydration pack. Birders planning to head out on long summer hikes may want to choose sports drinks instead of plain water.

  • Clothing: There are many options for what to wear out birding in summer, but generally lighter fabrics with looser weaves that can provide cooling ventilation are preferred. Moisture-wicking fabrics and clothes with vents are ideal, but it is important to wear long pants and long sleeves as much as possible to safeguard against summer insects and sunburn.

More Equipment for Summer Birding

Beyond just the basic birding equipment, it helps to have several summer-specific tools to make each hike more enjoyable.

  • Sunglasses: While birding in areas with abundant sunlight, a good pair of sunglasses can help reduce glare, protect the eyes and make colors and details stand out more easily. Birders who aren't used to wearing glasses while birding should be sure to twist or fold down the eyecups on their binoculars so the proper distance is maintained from the lens to the eye.

  • Sunscreen: Even a mild sunburn can make wearing a binocular strap a torment, and sunscreen should be liberally applied to all exposed skin before starting on a birding hike. Be sure to account for changes in posture and how clothing shifts when raising and lowering binoculars as well.

  • Insect Repellent: Mosquitoes, ticks and other biting insects are abundant all summer long, and wearing strong insect repellent can help minimize the risk of itchy bites. Many insects can still bite through long pants and sleeves, so wearing the repellent on the skin under the clothes as well as spraying access points – vents, cuffs, mesh, etc. – on the clothing itself is most effective.

  • Snacks: Because summer hikes are often longer and more strenuous than outdoor activities at other times of the year, bringing along nutritious, high energy snacks can help birders keep up their endurance. Trail mix, granola bars, jerky, fruit and similar snacks are healthy and refreshing options.

  • Trail Map: An updated trail map can be helpful for summer birders planning to hit long trails that may have multiple paths. While hiking, check trails carefully and stay on open, approved routes to avoid getting lost and misdirected.

  • Rain Gear: Even the brightest summer day can quickly be overcome with a harsh thunderstorm. Packing along rain gear can be useful for birders who might be caught out when the weather changes. A poncho is ideal, and tucking a plastic bag or two into the field bag will help keep delicate equipment protected if necessary.

Before Heading Out for Summer Birding

No matter how well equipped a birder is, unexpected summer surprises can interrupt a birding hike. Before heading out to find summer birds…

  • Watch the local weather forecast for predictions about top temperatures and possible storms or floods.
  • Check community calendars for summer festivals that may bring crowds to outdoor destinations.
  • Investigate local birding organizations for planned walks, and look for recent reports of vagrant birds to find.

Summer birding can be amazing, and a well-equipped birder with the proper gear for the hottest season will be able to enjoy more birds on longer hikes without risking injury, exhaustion or other unfortunate incidents.

Photo – Sunny Day © Eric Epps

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