10 Tips for Better Birdwatching
Here at the Bluewater resort, we are right next to some of the best birdwatching in the U.S. if not the world! We get folks from all over coming to this area just to see some epic flocked friends, and we get so many questions about the best techniques for spotting some of the more elusive species.
Bird watching on the Gulf Coast is a huge pastime. After all, the Galveston/Freeport area is right along a major migration path. There are too many species to list here, but some that you may spot are yellow-bellied flycatcher, kingbirds, house wren, warbler, orioles, wood stork, cranes…the list is practically endless.
For beginner birdwatchers, here are 10 tips that will elevate you to expert level in no time.
Be silent. Birds can be easily started by loud or sudden noises and will flee for cover. Don’t try sneaking up on one – it’s nearly impossible, because birds can hear so much better than us. By minimizing noise, you can get much closer to a bird. If you are bringing small children with you, encourage them to not make any noise at all.
Look around you. When birdwatchers start to fixate on a flock they’ve spotted in the distance, they often overlook the other habitats around them. Don’t forget to look up! You may miss a flock of geese or a soaring hawk.
Avoid sudden movements. Similar to loud noise, any sudden movements will tip a bird off to possible danger. To get close to a bird, you literally have to stalk it by moving slowly toward it. Even swinging your binoculars up to your eyes can startle them enough to fly away. The closer you are to a bird, the slower you should be moving.
Don’t wear bright colors. Birds tend to have poor vision, but brightly colored clothes, like whites, will contrast sharply with the environment and enhance every single move you make. Wear darker, earth-toned colors to try and blend into the background. Pro tip: there is no evidence that camouflage print works any better than solid, neutral, dark clothing.
Follow the crowd. In the off season, many smaller birds will follow flocks of larger birds for both protection and for finding food. Following a single calling bird will often lead to a larger flock that is feeding. During autumn, a single ‘chip’ note from high in the trees may signal the presence of warblers. In winter, a ‘seep’ sound from lower in a thicket may mean that over a dozen seed eaters are nearby.
Study habitat. Each species favors a particular habitat. For example, meadowlarks often prefer open fields, whereas woodpeckers need tall trees, and sparrows love thickets.
Work the flocks. Your chances of spotting an unusual bird are far greater in flocks. Studies have shown that when you have 10 chickadees in your yard, there are probably really 20.
Have patience. When a sparrow hops around in a bush, it will eventually move to a spot where you can really get a good look. Much of birdwatching is all about being patient and simply waiting for the birds to appear.
Have the sun at your back. Move around so that the sun is behind you as much as possible. This makes it much easier to see and identify birds. When a bird is between you and the sun, color often disappears and it’s hard to get any real detail, you’ll just see a black silhouette.
Try pishing. You can exercise patience, but no matter how slowly and quietly you move, a good look at the bird will allude you. When this happens, try a birdwatching technique called pishing. It involves making small, squeaky noises by kissing the back of your hand or by making a low whistled pish by blowing air through your closed teeth. Yes, we know it sounds weird but trust us on this one. Small birds can be attracted to these sounds and will often pop into view to investigate. To pish: Clench your teeth, open your lips and whisper the word pish.