Bird watching is a rather rewarding – and quite popular – hobby, with endless benefits including improved mental health, stress reduction, connecting with family and friends, keeping the mind and body active and connecting with nature. Three million adults go bird watching every year in the U.K [i], making it one of the more popular pastimes of the country, and it couldn’t be easier to take up this hobby for yourself. To help you get started, we’ve put together some information that will tell you everything you need to know about bird watching, from the laws to the best places to find some of the most interesting birds in the country.
The Law On Birds
Before you even consider going out looking for birds, it’s important that you know the law and stick to it to protect both yourself and the wildlife. The Wildlife and Countryside Act of 1981 protects wildlife, habitats, and plant life in the U.K. Under this act, all birds, their nests and their eggs are guarded. It is a criminal offence to intentionally kill, injure, or take wild birds or disturb their nests and eggs. Any infraction of this legislation can result in an unlimited fine, up to six months in prison or both.
The Bird Watcher’s Code
Put together by leading bird associations and publications, the bird watchers code is a set of guidelines all bird watchers are expected to abide by to protect the creatures they seek. It puts birds’ best interests first and places respect on the people around you, bird watcher or not. The code applies wherever you are bird watching, including outside of the U.K, and is expected to be enforced by bird watchers when others are misbehaving.
The bird watchers code is summed up in five rules:
- Avoid disturbing birds and their habitats
- Be an ambassador for bird watching
- Following the rules and laws for anywhere you visit when bird watching
- Send your sightings to the Country Bird Recorder to help preserve species
- If you sight any rare birds, consider the interests of the species, the land and the local people before deciding whether you should spread the news
As long as this code is adhered to and you show respect to all wildlife, people and land surrounding your bird watching site, there should be no problems with you pursuing this rewarding hobby.
What Are Bird Watcher’s Called?
Commonly, a bird watcher is referred to as a twitcher or a birder. Although these are amateurs (someone who studies birds professionally is called an ornithologist), the lists they produce of their sightings tend to assist organisations in preserving species and their environments.
The Best Locations For Bird Watching
There are quite a few hot spots around the U.K that are ripe with all types of bird species at certain times of the year. Generally, the best season for bird watching is spring, but different birds can be spotted at any time of the year. Below we’ve listed some of the best places for bird watching in the U.K, alongside the best times of the year to go for maximum bird watching opportunities.
- Exe Estuary, Devon – November to February
- Farne Islands, Northumberland – May to July
- Gigrin Farm, Wales – All year round
- Castle Espie WWT Centre, Strangford Lough – October to March
- Loch Garten, Scotland – April to August
- Minsmere Nature Reserve, Suffolk – May to June
If you didn’t want to travel so far away from home, you could always transform your own garden into a bird-friendly paradise and note all the winged guests you get coming in and out. This is a great form of conservation, as birds will come to your garden during feeding and nesting times if it is secure enough. To protect any important crops from your new feathered friends, try growing them in a polytunnel or fruit cage, especially during the early growth stages when they are at their most vulnerable.
For some tips on creating a bird-friendly garden, check out our blog post on the subject.
What Equipment You May Need
In most cases, bird watching requires no equipment, but if your main goal is to spot and identify specific birds, there are a few things you are likely to need.
- Binoculars – Although not essential, binoculars are incredibly useful to an avid birder because they allow you to get a closer look at birds without breaching the code. Good quality, compact binoculars are perfect for a clear view and constant carrying.
- A bird book – To help you identify the birds you see, a field guide will be helpful. Begin with a book containing birds native to Britain at first to avoid confusion and try to get one with paintings as opposed to photographs for more accurate identification.
- A notebook and pen – Many birdwatchers make notes of the birds they see to serve as a reminder to them but also to potentially assist conservation organisations if their list contains rare birds. Write down anything of interest of each bird you see – markings, colour, plumage ect. – for easier identification.
- A camera – If you want to capture the birds you see, bringing a camera along is possibly the best way to do this. Get a telephoto lens that allows you to shoot from a long distance to avoid disturbing the birds.
- The right clothing – Dressing for the weather and wearing the right shoes is vital for bird watching – you don’t want to get close to a rich watching spot only to find your way blocked because of a puddle.
Bird Identification Apps
There is a surprisingly large amount of bird watching apps for your phone, and they do a range of things. You can get field guide apps that provide you with a goldmine of information on almost every bird in the world, apps that can identify a bird by the sound of its song, checklist apps where you can keep track of the birds you see and apps that help you find local birds wherever you may be. Here are some of the best apps that will help during each birdwatching session. Each of these apps is suitable for either Android or IOS operating systems.
Having these tools as apps is incredibly helpful as you are more likely to carry your phone with you
Tips On Bird Watching
Bird watching is a relatively easy-going hobby, but if you want to take things a bit seriously and find some exciting animals, here are a few tips for you to keep in mind. More avid bird watchers often use these techniques, so you are likely to see and capture a broader scope of birds if you keep these and the bird watcher’s code in mind.
- Don’t wear brightly coloured clothes – Bright clothes, including whites, will contrast with the environment and drive the birds away. Stick to darker colours to blend in to your surroundings.
- Know the habitats – Understanding habitats of different birds will help you locate the right places to look to find them.
- Follow the song – Flocks of birds tend to be silent besides one or two members, so following the call of a single bird may lead you to a flock of them.
- Keep the sun to your back – Keeping the sun behind you will make it much easier to see and identify the birds.
- Stay quiet and still – Any loud noise or sudden movement will send a bird flying for cover, so stay as still and quiet as you can.
- Be patient – A lot of bird watching is waiting for birds to emerge from hidden spots, so be patient when you hear a bird song or hear shuffling in a bush – the bird will likely come out sooner or later
- Don’t get distracted – Focusing on a flock in a thicket could cause you to miss the hawk flying through the air or the geese paddling past, so constantly keep your eyes moving.
The Decline of Bird Species
Despite the unwavering efforts of many organisations around the world, many well-known bird species are declining. Species bird watchers often look for are being seen less and less. This is thought to be due mainly to changes in cultivation and the resulting destruction of habitats. Although this isn’t happening at an alarming rate yet, conservation charities are hoping to curb the decline before it is too late. The following shows the percentage decline of some bird species taken from the Common Bird Census between 1970 and 1999:
- Song thrush – 56%
- Skylark – 52%
- Corn bunting – 88%
- Turtle dove – 71%
- Cuckoo – 33%
- Willow tit – 78%
There are many more declining species listed on the Common Bird Census, which can be found here. Although these results might be a bit disconcerting, there are a few things you could do to help conserve these species. For example, you could make your garden a bird-friendly zone and adhere to the bird watchers code at all times, no matter where in the world they may be. You can find out more ways to help the preservation of birds here.
Although bird watching is one of the most popular hobbies in the country, it’s important that you put the interests of the birds above all. You should be trying to protect them even in your pursuit – you don’t want all these beautiful creatures to go extinct. As long as you are respectful, you will be able to revel in the gratifying hobby that is birdwatching and even play a significant part in their future.
Sean Barker is the MD of First Tunnels, and is enthusiastic about providing quality gardening supplies to gardeners across the UK