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April 2012
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Bird Watching Basics
Simple tips to improve your birding experience from the backyard to the backwoods.

With the arrival of spring, many feathered friends will be migrating back to the area, making this the perfect time to hone your bird watching skills. offers plenty of valuable resources to help you on your next birding excursion. For novice birdwatchers, here are a few helpful hints:
  • Get a field guide specific to your area. Field guides offer pictures of birds, as well as tips on how to identify them. According to, the best field guides for the U.S. are the Peterson Field Guide to Eastern Birds and the Peterson Field Guide to Western Birds.
  • Invest in a good pair of binoculars; it’ll make the difference between seeing a fluffy ball of feathers and a recognizable bird.
  • Join a group or find a birding club. Meet other birders who can share their knowledge with you.
  • Research how to bring the birds to you. Plant flowers that attract hummingbirds, build a birdhouse or hang a birdfeeder; you can even learn about the National Wildlife Federation’s “Backyard Habitat” Program.
The North Dakota Parks and Recreation Department ( provides useful tips to keep in mind wherever you’re birding:
  • Be very careful as you look, listen and move. You want to be able to spot the birds and identify them without frightening them away.
  • If you’re birding with a group, keep your conversations to a minimum. Experienced birders normally don’t travel more than one mile per hour on foot.
  • Study any unfamiliar birds thoroughly before looking for them in your field guide, so you can be sure you’re identifying the correct species.
More useful information is available from the National Audubon Society ( If you’d like to attract local birds to your yard, the Audubon can help. The fundamentals for a healthy bird habitat are food, water, shelter and a nesting area. Here are some more details:
Food: Some backyard birds live on a diet of insects while others eat seeds, nuts, fruit or nectar, and many eat a little if at all. By offering more food options, you’ll increase the variety of birds you see.
Water: Birds need clean water for both drinking and bathing. Create a clean, fresh water source and you’ll attract many more birds than those that just visit birdfeeders.
Nesting: By offering birds areas to nest and raise their young, you’ll be able to enjoy seeing them through the breeding season. Different species have different nesting requirements from open nests in trees or on ledges to more secluded nests in crevices or even on the ground. Learn what species typically nest in your area and find out what their nesting habits are.
Shelter: Like all animals, birds need shelter to hide from predators and inclement weather. Trees, shrubs, rocks and even tall grasses can provide adequate shelter.
You can find more specifics about the different aspects of a healthy backyard habitat at and
With some basic knowledge about bird watching, you’ll be able to enjoy your experience that much more, whether you’re simply looking to bring more birds into your backyard or you’re launching a new hobby.


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