I have been a birder for my entire life. I would often go birding with my aunt, my uncle, my mom, or my grandparents. As I got older, however, we all had less and less time to go birding. Now, as an adult, I have been getting back into birds and nature in general, and in as little as a year, I have rediscovered many familiar species from my childhood, in addition to seeing several lifers! In this guide, I will offer up five methods that I use to find new and interesting birds.
1. Word of Mouth
One great way to find new bird species is to have a friend or acquaintance who can point one out to you. If you are friends with other birders, or involved in a birding community, they may know a few spots to find rare or interesting birds. I was able to see an Eastern Screech-Owl for the first time because my boyfriend knows someone who sees the owl in the same spot every year.
If you don’t yet know any birders, there are plenty of ways to get involved with the community. You can connect with people online, attend birding events, or talk to people you see while out birding. Whenever I’m birding with my boyfriend, we’ll talk to people we see who appear to be birding as well. Sometimes they’ll have seen something interesting that they can point out to us, or they’ll give us a way to connect with them online.
2. Birding Websites
Another way to find new bird species is with websites such as eBird and iNaturalist. You can find out where all the best birds are in your area, and you won’t even have to talk to anyone! The users on these sites post their observations of birds (and other organisms, in the case of iNaturalist), along with the location and time of the sighting. This will allow other users to follow in their footsteps and potentially see the same birds. Sometimes there are sightings of very rare birds that are posted on these sites, so keep a look out! I was able to see a Long-tailed Duck for the first time by using eBird.
Something to keep in mind is that sometimes the locations of these birds will be obscured in order to protect them, but eBird and iNaturalist are still great sites to find birds!
3. Search Based on Habitat
Talking to your friends or using birding websites will yield you live information about the locations of birds, but ornithologists have been studying where to find birds for centuries. You can use birding guides or search on the internet to find out which birds are found in which habitats, and at what time of year. For example, the best place to see an American Kestrel is on a wire along a country road, and you probably aren’t going to find an Osprey away from water.
As your birding experience grows, you will start the learn the habitats and migratory patterns of the common birds in your area. In the meantime, use the existing information available to you in the form of print or web guides.
4. Go Birding with a More Experienced Birder
Even with the help of a website, guide, or friend, it may be difficult to find the birds you’re looking for. One great way to spot more birds is to go birding with a more experienced birder. They will be able to point a bird out for you and ID it, so then all you have to do is look at it. My boyfriend was able to see a few new hawk species by going to one of their migration sites with someone he knows, a highly experienced birder.
You might be thinking that going birding with an expert birder is out of your reach, but that may not be true! By getting involved in the community, you will meet many birders of varying levels, and they may be willing to go birding with you. If you put yourself out there and reach out to prominent people in the community, they might go birding with you. I was able to go on a birding walk with Kenn Kaufman by being involved with the community and attending a birding event.
5. Go Birding Often
Whatever methods you use to locate birds, at the end of the day, sometimes you just get lucky. Even with a friend or birding website to point you to a bird, you still might not see it. My boyfriend and I went looking for a Snowy Owl where it had been seen a couple days in a row and we were unable to find it, but just a few hours later, someone else posted on iNaturalist that they had seen it in the exact spot we had been looking! While I still have yet to see a Snowy Owl, I have seen some rare and interesting birds completely unexpectedly. While looking for eagles along the Mississippi River, I spotted three Greater White-fronted Geese hidden among a large group of Canada Geese. They were a lifer for me!
This one is obvious, but birding more often will increase your chances of seeing interesting birds.
By using these five methods, you will start to see many more interesting bird species. Whether you want to get involved with the community or be a more solitary birder, there’s a method in here for everyone. Comment which methods work for you. What new species of bird were you able to find using this guide? Happy birding!