Best Bird Watching Gear (2023): Everything You Need to Start Bird Watching

bird watching or bird watching, is admittedly a curious pastime. They are essentially spying on small feathered creatures trying to go about their lives. However, instead of sending you to prison, this hobby can actually lead to it Make friends, Improve your focus and concentrationAnd Enrich your life. (Maybe even get one show on Nat Geo.)

To start bird watching, just slow down, be quiet and start observing the world around you – it’s full of birds. However, there are some basic tips and equipment that can improve your birding experience, and some others that are just plain fun. Thanks to my parents, I’ve been bird watching since birth, but whether you’re an experienced bird watcher or a complete newbie, there’s something here for everyone.

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Once you’ve made the decision to pay attention to birds, a good pair of binoculars is the biggest improvement you can make in your birding life. Prices for binoculars vary widely, from under $100 to well over $2,000. If you’re all in and have the money, you should definitely get a pair of Leica or Swarovski binoculars; you will not be disappointed. I can still tell you every bird I saw while borrowing my friend’s Leica pair.

However, there is no need to spend that much. The top pick in our Best Binoculars guide is these Nikon Monarch M5 8×42 Binoculars. The Monarch M5 offer an excellent balance of optical performance, quality and price. The glass inside provides beautiful, bright views with little chromatic aberration (the distortions or edges you sometimes see around objects in bright sunlight).

The Monarch M5s are also light enough to wear around your neck all day without being too intrusive, and they come with the most comfortable standard strap of any binocular I’ve tested.

More great options

  • Maven C.2 7X28 Binoculars for $225: Would you like something lighter and smaller? These Maven C.2 series binoculars are wonderfully compact – I barely noticed them around my neck (they’re just 4.5 inches long and weigh 12 ounces). Despite this, this optic still delivers a bright, sharp image. They’re not as powerful as the Monarch M5, so the image is a little smaller, but they get the job done and are great for hiking.
  • Leica Noctivid 8X42 for $2,999: These binoculars offer everything you would expect from the Leica name and are also very expensive. These are by far the brightest and sharpest lenses I have ever put on my eyes.
  • Pentax AD 7X32 ED Binoculars for $296: These are my new favorite binoculars, although I haven’t had a chance to add them to our guide yet. They are wonderfully bright, compact and light. The slightly larger field of view makes them suitable for bird watching beginners.

Get an identification app or a travel guide

Courtesy of Scott Gilbertson

I love paper books (anything made of paper, actually). I have something of a collection of bird guides, but I mostly use apps on my phone when I’m in the field. I suggest you get both. If you’re not sure how serious you want to get about bird watching, start with the apps because they’re free. There are many ID apps for almost every device. I have not tested them all, also because the three that I will propose have always answered all my questions about identification.

Apps you need

  • Merlin Bird ID (Android, iOS): The Merlin app is part of the Cornell Lab, Cornell University’s bird research project. Data collection is extensive and identification tools allow you to narrow down based on dozens of criteria, including likely birds in your area at the current time of year. You can also use it to identify birds by their calls or songs.
  • Audubon Bird Guide (Android, iOS): Audubon’s app has a few nice features that the Merlin app doesn’t. My favorite is the Similar tab, which shows you all the birds that are similar to the bird you are currently looking at. Like Merlin, there are numerous geographical tools, including lists of nearby sightings, which are useful not only for identifying local birds, but also for helping to find bird-filled locations.
  • Sibley Birds 2nd Edition for $20 (Android, iOS): The digital version of David Allen Sibley Birds of North America, this app is not free but worth the money. I like drawings, which I find help with identification more than photos, but I also like this app because there are no geospatial tools. I recently identified a harlequin duck because I was looking at the Sibley guide and didn’t get distracted by the fact that there shouldn’t have been a harlequin duck where I was. Sometimes birds don’t follow the rules.

Books you need

  • Kaufman Field Guide to Birds of North America ($16 on Amazon, $21 at This is my favorite guide for getting into the field. It has almost 400 pages but is tiny and weighs only 1 pound, making it a good compromise between portability and thoroughness. Although Amazon lists it as a hardcover, it is actually what is known as a flexibound, which is somewhere between a hardcover and a paperback.
  • Sibley Guide to Birds ($22 at Amazon, $42 at On 614 pages, David Allen Sibleys guide is too big and heavy to take with you in the field (although I did, just think of it as a “ruck,” an extra workout when bird watching), but for home use it’s well worth the money. There are also separate ones Western ($13) And East ($13) versions, but I haven’t used either. Although I linked to Amazon because it is cheaper, my copy from Amazon had a misprint and was missing several pages about owls. If I were to buy again, I would buy directly from Sibley.
  • Sibley’s Birding Basics: How to Identify Birds ($13 on Amazon, $16 at If you’re new to bird watching, this is the best introduction to all the bird identification tips and tricks I’ve ever seen. Even after years of bird watching, I learned a lot from reading this book. Thanks to this I can identify different sparrows much better.

Going outside isn’t entirely necessary for bird watching (see below), but it’s a nice side benefit. A guidebook (maybe), binoculars, a phone, water, keys – you’ve got enough stuff to justify a good backpack or lumbar bag. There is no need to spend a fortune; Something like our favorite budget backpack, the Herschel legacy will transport your bird watching equipment. I often use our favorite lumbar support, the Mountainsmith Tour ($90), hiking and bird watching. It has room for two water bottles, a guidebook, snacks, and all the other things I carry around with me.

Bird buddy

Photo: Bird Buddy

I love birds and have had a version of a bird feeder for a few years. It just makes me happy to be able to interact with and offer something to these little animals that I am in awe of.

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