Ready for a new season of birding? In this post, you'll get a complete bird watching gear checklist – including binoculars, camera, guidebooks, apps, feeders, and hiking gear.
37 Required Bird Watching Gear and Resources
A flash of color, a fleeting view of beauty between the branches and a sharp intake of breath as a bird lands and their exquisite plumage is taken in. This is an everyday occurrence for those nature loving birders roaming the wild places hoping to catch a glimpse of our winged friends.
Whether they have been doing it for 20 years or just starting out, one thing is true… it never gets old. As every birder will tell you, it is addictive and a great way to spend a day.
Beginner birders who are joining the bird watching ranks worldwide are lucky enough to discover not only a new hobby, but also a new circle of friends. You see, birders are generally friendly, happy people always welcoming to anyone who would care to join them.
This is perfect for beginners because you can pick their brains as they stroll along, learning from their experience so you know all the bits of gear you will need for your future birding adventures.
How to identify birds, what photography gear you will need, how to record your sightings, the best ways to attract them to your feeders and the top places and times of year to find them will all be covered here.
So you don’t run a fowl (hee hee), let’s get started with the basics.
Birding Gear You'll Need
- Binoculars: As every avid birder will tell you, binoculars are your best friend in the field. You get a clearer view from where you stand without disturbing the bird by moving closer which means you stand a shot of seeing it long enough to identify it. When you’re just starting out it’s okay to beg/borrow a pair until you find the right ones for you. We have a few suggestions later in this post.
- Identification Books / Apps: You may not want to lug a big paperback field guide around in your backpack so it’s easy to leave that one at home and download a birding identification app onto your phone. Quick, easy and with the added bonus of more than one field guide. You have a virtual library at your fingertips that also lets you hear the birds call.
- Camera: You don’t need the most expensive camera on the market, to spend thousands of dollars or buy that lens that costs almost as much as your house. Until you gain some more experience any old point and shoot will do. Just remember in your excitement to take the shot. Chances are that as a baby birder, you may have one of those ‘fumbling’ moments as the excitement takes hold and you are juggling binoculars, your phone to try and identify it and also try to focus your camera. It’s okay, we’ve all done it so perhaps take the picture first before the bird flies away, and then try to identify it. We’ll discuss photography gear later. For more about choosing a great wildlife camera, you might want to check out: How to choose the best camera for safari. While you don't have be on safari to go birding, most of the principals apply.
- Your List: Birders love lists! The most commonly referred to list is generally their ‘lifer’. This is the list of birds they hope to see in their lifetime. They will plan trips, travel far n wide and venture into the wild and quite possibly dodgy places many times in search of lifers. This list is a birders pride and joy as is ticking one off. Life Lists and Field Journals are available for those that like tangible evidence, or you can store them in your phone as most apps have them.
- Backpack and Snacks: Chances are that once you are out there surrounding by fellow birders, you may lose track of time or stay longer than anticipated, especially if you’ve had a couple of good sightings. So, some snacks in your backpack is a good idea to keep that energy up for you to continue.
Now, you know the essentials, let’s move on and cover them in more depth.
Identification Books (4)
Usually a lot of birders will have both (Paperback and app). Using slim lightweight pocket guides out on their adventures don’t weigh them down, while the bigger volumes are left at home on the shelf.
Identification is the biggest thing you need as a birder, so here’s a Top 4 list of books usually found in every birders library.
Full of stunning pictures, this is a photo guide allowing you to quickly identify that bird before it flies away. Also, includes range maps, nesting habits, overhead flight silhouettes, voice and much more.
It is a very comprehensive lightweight guide easily slipped into your backpack.
This book has an identification system they say is the best things for birders since the invention of binoculars.
Great reference guide filled with sketches and photos both in black and white and in color.
This guide is perfect for everyone with a feeder in their backyard. An easy to follow identification guide, tips on attracting and feeding birds, nesting and migrating species and a lot more.
Full color photos, range maps, habitat needs, tips for attracting your favorites and many other features are all included in this pocket-sized guide.
Phone Apps (3)
The beauty of apps is that they get continually updated, have in built GPS for your lists, save trees (as a nature lover this is a big plus), generally have more pictures, are easy and quick to use and have the added bonus of including audio for you to hear the birds call as well.
Jam packed with everything you need, you can have more than one which means there is a library at our fingertips. Learn more about identifying birds by “seeing” their songs.
Clear descriptions, pictures, range maps, built in personalised sighting list and map, ranges and clear audio recordings to hear the birds, this app has everything you need the best part is it’s free!
This app provides range, full page pictures, clear calls, birdpedia and interesting facts. There’s everything you need just in the identify section.
iBird have a range of apps covering North America, the UK, your backyard and many more. Kindle and tablet forms are available as well.
– is perfect for beginners. Specialising in their calls, this app comes with clear visual pictures, a checklist and a fun way for you to learn birds quickly by playing an identification game – guess the picture. A great way to learn the basics. Check current price.
Sight and Life Lists (2)
Most apps will have a sighting list built for you to easily add them as you go along. They can be for a day or a trip, it’s just a way to remember what you have seen.
9. The Lifer List – highly coveted by birders this is the Holy Grail of lists. In the hopes of seeing the birds on that list, it will lead to many a chase (birders slang for a trip built around seeing one species of bird.
Usually a rarer bird so it may involve travelling quite a way) because they are the ones you most want to see in your lifetime.
They may be in your country or abroad, there is no holding back on this list. Just remember to get photographic evidence to show your birding friends to stop the ‘yeh right, sure you did’ teasing when you get back. After all they are generally a good-humored bunch.
Learn more about how to choose the best binoculars for birding
Binoculars, Spotting Scopes and Accessories (9)
Binoculars or a Spotting Scope are a must for birding. Also think about saving the pain in your neck after a few hours of lugging around binoculars and getting a harness which also helps free up your hands to quickly take a picture or flick through a field guide.
This is probably the most popular binoculars amongst birders – waterproof, fog proof, a rubber armored body for added strength and extra low dispersion glass provides a clearer, sharper and more brilliant field of view.
Meanwhile, their sturdy construction and O-rings seals means these binoculars will last a lifetime.
This compact pair is every bird lovers dream. Lightweight, pocket-sized with a wide field of view and sharp clarity at 1,000 yards.
Non-slip grip and a lifetime warranty make them a great addition to your gear.
A great beginners pair has 7x focus plus Instafocus to quickly focus on fast-moving birds. Non-slip grip for all weather conditions and a great field of view at 1.000 yards means you can’t go wrong for a beginner pair.
Make birding fun and spend quality time outdoors with the kids as the fast focus allows them to get up close and personal with our feathered friends.
Shockproof, built for kid’s hands and comes complete with a birding double-sided map showing 583 different birds for easy reference.
Powerful zoom and magnification high enough to watch the stars, it’s waterproof, fog proof durable construction is angled at 45 for ease of viewing.
Multi-colored lenses provide bright, clear images even in low light.
Providing upgraded revolutionary optics, this will spot anything clearly and accurately. It’s easy to use, comfortable and handles all weather conditions being waterproof, fog proof, drop proof, climate proof and durable.
Enabling you to not only see up close, but also take a great photo at the same time this is ingenious and stops your friends doubting that you actually saw that ‘lifer’.
Shockproof, waterproof, dust proof and provides high magnification.
Interchangeable with binoculars, rangefinders of your camera this is one handy and comfortable bit of kit. Takes the pain out of long days and frees up your hands for photography or identification.
Provides great support taking the weight off your neck and distributing it onto your back and shoulders so a long days birding is a breeze. Interchangeable with camera and rangefinders it’s also self-adjustable to fit anyone for any purpose.
Photography and Accessories
Camera’s – When it comes to proving you just saw that ‘lifer’ then you need to be able to take the shot quickly.
These days you can get a top brand camera and accessories a lot cheaper than you used to and there are all sorts of neat accessories for your mobile phone.
Bursting with extra’s not only is this one the world’s leading brands, but it also comes with 2 telephoto lenses allowing you to capture a great shot.
Memory cards, lenses, tripod, UV filters, strap, flash plus more. This is everything you need and amazing value for money.
Even more memory, filters, lenses, and cleaning gear, this package well and truly holds every birder’s needs all stored in a great partitioned camera bag.
A mirrorless camera with a great birding lens (14-140mm). Provides clear, bright photos for those more interested in birds than photography. Has fast and precise autofocusing for tracking the subject.
Fast and reliable it transfers pictures and video quickly with the added bonus of being waterproof, shockproof, temperature proof, X-Ray proof and magnet proof which I dare say make it almost bomb proof in the photography world.
Top loading for quick access, padded for protection, multiple storage pockets. Zippered side compartments for cables, chargers, and filters.
Lightweight and able to change to fit camcorders or any style camera.
Cell phone accessories have come a long way so if you don’t want to buy a camera.
Macro lenses, wide angle lenses alongside others can be attached to your cell phone. LS – PRO Cell Phone Camera Kit is a 3-in-1 package complete with macro, wide and fisheye lenses.
Gear – Spending days wandering the wilds means you will need some basics. A sturdy backpack, water or a hydration system, a snack or two and it’s probably a good idea to include a small First Aid Kit just in case of an emergency.
After all, birds aren’t the only things out there. Plus, it wouldn’t be the first time someone fell or twisted an ankle while their eyes were focused skyward.
Made of lightweight durable anti-tear material, water resistant with multiple storage spaces to handle anything you may want to include and available in a wide range of colors it meets every birder’s needs.
Water resistant and lightweight with multiple compartments this backpack will meet all of your birding needs.
Combine your water and gear with this lightweight, durable and individually adjustable backpack adding to your comfort on a day outing.
28. Water Filtration
It removes 99.9999% of bacteria and protozoa without using Iodine which means in case of emergency you could easily drink from a stream, river or puddle for that matter. Learn more about purifying river water.
Complete with an emergency 32-piece mini kit, this water and moisture resistant First Aid Kit is perfectly packed and lightweight so is easy to include in your backpack.
It even has survival tools for worse case scenarios making it a ‘must have’ item for day trips into the wilderness. Better to be prepared as they say. Here are some more must have survival gear for hikers.
There are location guides for specific areas you can pick up if going to another state or country.
For example: Birds of Florida Field Guide… and these are great but nowadays you have the option of just looking at your birding app and there are range maps that will help you figure out what you are most likely to see.
31. Local Guides
If traveling to another country to find a ‘lifer’ rare beauty then it is probably best to find a local guide to greatly increase your chances of seeing that rare bird.
For example: looking for the Resplendent Quetzal in Guatemala it would be wise to have a guide as it is not safe to go wandering off into the jungle.
Some blog posts help with location guides, like this list of 333 birds of British Columbia.
Bird Feeders: Bring the Birds to You
Attracting birds into your garden for viewing is every birder's delight. It also greatly increases your chances of seeing the migratory birds passing through each year if they know there is food there.
33. Choose the Right Type of Seed
Choosing the right type of seed will attract the species you wish to see. If you want to see finches then adding corn to your feeder will do nothing but you will be serenaded by all the cooing doves that arrive.
So, think about what you would like to see first, then buy the feeder that best suits.
34. Choosing the Right Feeder
Tube, hopper or platform feeders are all designed with attracting different birds into your garden.
Once again think about the species you wish to attract, where you will place your feeder and if there are other wildlife that will eat the seed, before your purchase. After all, the idea is to see birds not a wave of squirrels instead.
35. Close up View with a Windowsill Feeder
Imagine being dazzled over breakfast every morning as your windowsill feeder brings your feathered friends right up to your window.
This is a great feeder for beginner birders because it allows you to get up close to study the birds which helps with identification.
Clear for optimal viewing, easy to clean, divided removable feeding tray so you can have two types of seed and then place it on your window and sit back and study that gorgeous plumage up close.
– choosing a variety seed will attract many different species for your viewing pleasure. Wagner’s 62059 Greatest Variety Blend is an excellent way to help you identify birds quickly as it attracts the greatest variety of species and includes an identification chart on the back of the bag.
Phew! That was a lot of information but with this comprehensive guide and reviews, you are now fully armed with everything you need to make great choices and acquire all the right gear to get you started.
As with any new hobby, the right gear allows you see and experience your birding trips.
The exhilaration you will feel when that flash of color or movement catches your eye, and you can identify the feathers in question will quickly add another tick to another list… your bucket list.
Love bright, colorful birds? Check out this post about 26 of the most colorful birds!
Have a suggestion for an absolute must-have piece of bird watching gear? Let me know in the comments!
Drew Haines is an animal enthusiast and travel writer. She loves to share her passion through her writing. She graduated high school at sixteen and started her own business, Everywhere Wild Media. And she runs Everywhere Wild and JustBirding. She also guest blogs on Storyteller.Travel
She lived in Ecuador for 6 years and explored the Galapagos Islands. Currently based in N.S., Canada.