Binoculars are essential for birding, whether you are just enjoying the birds in your backyard or if you want to travel to remote areas to find rare and elusive species. With the right pair of binoculars, you can see fine details and field markings more easily and enjoy subtleties in bird behavior that you might otherwise miss. Furthermore, good binoculars will bring the birds close to you without disturbing them, letting you observe them more easily and comfortably.
How Do You Bird
Before choosing a pair of binoculars, it is important to understand how you watch the birds and what types of birds you hope to see. If you are interested in raptors and birds of prey, binoculars with a greater magnification can help you see details of birds soaring hundreds of feet in the air. For sighting ducks, geese and waterfowl, binoculars that are waterproof may be best. To get a closer look at your backyard birds, a pair of binoculars with a close focus range will be the most suitable.
Binocular Characteristics to Consider
There are several factors and characteristics of binoculars that must be considered when you’re choosing a pair for birding.
- Cost: The price of the binoculars is what most birders first consider when choosing a new pair of optics, and prices can range from $20 to $2,000 or higher. In general, the higher the price the better the quality of the binoculars, and experienced birders have learned that a more expensive pair is a worthwhile investment. Good quality, durable birding binoculars can easily be found in the $150-400 price range.
- Magnification: The magnification factor of the binoculars will determine how much larger they make distant objects appear. Every pair of binoculars is labeled with a pair of numbers, such as 7x20, 8x32 or 10x40. The first number is the degree of magnification. Binoculars in the 8-10 range are best for birding, though bear in mind that the higher the magnification, the more steady your hands must be to hold them still enough for careful observation.
- Lens Width: The second number of a binoculars’ rating is the measurement, in millimeters, of the front lens of the binoculars and determines the amount of light admitted into the viewing area. The higher the number, the brighter the image will appear. This is especially important if you plan on birding in shaded areas or at dawn or dusk when there are more birds to see but less light to do it with.
- Field of View: The field of view is the area you will be able to observe through the binoculars. A wider field of view may allow you to see multiple birds without moving the binoculars and can make spotting birds easier.
- Image Quality: If you don’t see a good image with your binoculars, you won’t be able to identify the birds. When trying different optics, check for focus quality at the edge of the viewing field, the depth and frequency of focusing, whether or not the binoculars have a dual focus option to adjust to your eyes and how natural the image color is that you see.
- Lens Coatings: Different coatings on the lenses of your binoculars will improve the color of the image as well as the light level and focus. While the specifications for a pair of binoculars should outline lens coatings, a quick visual check for a pink, purple or green sheen on the lenses will tell you if they have any coatings. Pink and purple coatings of different types will improve the color quality of the image, while a green coating will help fade the background so the birds stand out more clearly.
- Close Focus: One feature many birders appreciate in a good pair of binoculars is the ability to focus on birds that are just a few feet away. This is especially convenient for backyard birders, and a focal distance of 5-8 feet is ideal. Don’t forget to test how quickly the binoculars can switch from close to distant focusing for tracking moving birds.
- Size: The physical size of the binoculars should always be considered before you purchase them. They should be comfortable to hold securely, and you should be able to easily reach the focus wheel without moving more than a finger. Also note their weight: very heavy optics can be impractical for lengthy birding trips unless a neck strap or harness is used.
- Eyeglasses: If you wear eyeglasses, you will want a pair of binoculars with adjustable eyepieces to minimize eye strain. Foldable rubber sleeves are common but can crack or break more easily than twisting or sliding eyepieces.
- Construction: The actual construction features of binoculars can make them more suitable for birding. Waterproof options are great for birders who enjoy waterfowl, shorebirds or simply live in moisture-prone or humid climates. Armored binoculars have a rubber coating to protect against minor chips, nicks, dents and scrapes that may occur in the field.
Once you’ve found a suitable pair of binoculars, adding basic accessories can make them more convenient to use and keep them in good condition for many years. Accessories to consider include:
- Carrying case, preferably with room for a field guide
- Neck straps or shoulder harnesses to keep your hands free
- Lens covers to protect from excess dirt or dust
- Cleaning cloths and solutions
Tips for Buying Birding Binoculars
Good quality birding binoculars can be found at nature and bird supply stores, sporting goods stores and through specialty retailers. Before you buy, however...
- Try several brands and models to find the binoculars that are the best fit for you. If possible, ask for recommendations from fellow birders and try different binoculars in the field.
- Read manuals carefully to learn how to operate your binoculars effectively, focus them for your eyes and keep them in good shape.
- Check all warranty information and return policies.
Once you’ve purchased your new binoculars, practice with them frequently before heading into the field to spot new birds. If you are familiar with your optics, they’ll easily help you become more familiar with the birds.
Binoculars Photo © John