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Basic Supplies Every Birder Needs



Binoculars help with bird identification.

Melissa Mayntz

Novice birders can start this rewarding hobby with nothing but their eyes, but there are basic supplies that make birding much more enjoyable.

Field Guide

A detailed field guide is every birder’s most essential tool. A good guide will contain information on the appearance, colors, habitat range and behavior of different species. Guides may be specialized for particular types of birds, regions of the country or individual states.

Choose a guide that is easy to read and conveniently portable. Guides with built-in checklists of profiled species are helpful to keep track of your life list.

Field guides range from $5 to $35 depending on the publisher, the length of the guide and the features it offers.


A good quality pair of binoculars is indispensible for spotting birds at a distance. Birders need to recognize small characteristics such as bill shape or wing markings to accurately identify birds, and binoculars will help make those observations easier.

Binoculars should offer good magnification and a decent field of view for the best observations. Compact, lightweight and waterproof models are also valuable. Binoculars should come with an adjustable neck or shoulder strap so they can be carried conveniently and accessed quickly when a new bird appears.

Good quality binoculars can be found in every price range, from $25 to $500 or more.


A digital camera with quality zoom capability can help birders capture their observations for later comparison with field guides and other bird identification resources. Taking pictures also helps birders focus on enjoying a bird’s behavior instead of noting every critical identification detail.

When choosing a camera for birding, select a model that has varied settings for different light levels and zooms. Pictures on a bright, sunny day may be easy to identify with any camera, but overcast or shaded photos can be much more difficult to identify with a poor quality camera. The optical zoom should also be strong enough to capture a bird’s appearance even when used at the maximum distance.

Cameras suitable for birding may cost from $100 to $500 or more.

Birding Journal

While specialized journals are available for birders to note their observations, a simple notebook and pencil will work just as well. Take note of a bird’s habitat, behavior, voice and other characteristics to help identify the species, as well as its detailed appearance if a camera is unavailable. A birding journal can also contain a checklist of different species to serve as a comprehensive life list.

Notebooks and journals are very inexpensive, from less than $1 to $15 for a birding-specific journal.

Hiking Boots

While many birds can be seen in urban areas or along paved nature trails, serious birders will frequently venture into less forgiving areas to follow a new bird or discover more secretive species. A proper pair of hiking boots that fit comfortably and provide traction on different surfaces can be useful for birding field trips. Waterproof boots are useful for observing species in wet or damp climates, along rivers and in marshes.

Proper hiking boots may cost from $15 to $65 or more depending on the manufacturer, materials and style.

Field Bag

A canvas field bag is a convenient tote for birders. The bag should have a comfortable shoulder strap and easy to access pockets to hold all the necessary birding supplies as well as other items such as a bottle of water, sunglasses or cell phone. Exterior pockets are especially useful so birders do not need to fumble with flaps when a bird appears.

Field bags can be found for as little as $15 to as much as $80 or more depending on the size, construction and features of the bag.

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