Heron Marychild | 10.05.2014

Chances are you see birds every day. Crows, starlings, jays, and soaring turkey vultures are a few of the more ubiquitous species. If you look closely, you will find hundreds more. Wherever your outdoor adventures take you, to a city park, a roaring river, the open ocean, even high above the tree line, there are birds to be seen. Learning to find and identify them is a great way to deepen your connection to the places and landscapes you inhabit and love. The skills and equipment needed are simple enough to be within reach of anyone with a will to learn, and are certain to enhance every foray into the outdoors.

Fall is a great time to start birding. Many species are moving into towns, cities, and agricultural areas in search of food after spending the summer out in the woods. If you have flowers in your yard or garden that have gone to seed, leave them out as natural bird feeders. A single sunflower (especially the kind that produces many flowers), will provide weeks of daily feeding for American goldfinches and black-capped chickadees.

Fall is also when many birds start making their way to favorite over-wintering grounds. Valley wetlands in particular are popular with over-wintering waterfowl. As you become more attuned to your avian neighbors you will start to anticipate the arrival and departure of these transient species with the seasons. 

The Basics

All you need to start birding is a bird book and a decent pair of binoculars.

Start with a regional bird book such as Birds of the Willamette Valley Region. This will have fewer, more relevant entries than more comprehensive volumes. The Sibley Guide to Birds, one of the more extensive guides, also has a mobile app that allows for filtering by state.

Binoculars come in a bewildering array of sizes, shapes, and prices. They are classified by a number like 7x35. The first number is the magnification power and the second is the size in mm of the objective (large) lens. The larger the objective lens, the brighter the image through the binoculars will be (especially important in low light). For birding, start out with a pair of 7x35 or 8x42 binoculars. Expect to spend at least $100, as anything below that will generally be of inferior quality. For people with eyeglasses, be sure to check that the eye relief is at least 12-15mm.

Many birds are most active in the few hours after dawn, they are more visible and vocal then. Look for birds along the edge of water, at food sources (grain, seeds, and berries are favorites), perched in trees, and flying overhead. Don't forget to listen as well. Eventually, you will be able to identify birds just by their songs. The first time I saw the magnificent pileated woodpecker I was taking a break from mountain biking and fiddling with my camera. I heard loud wing beats above me and was able to glance up in time to see the 16-inch bird land on the side of a nearby tree. I would never have noticed it if I hadn't been listening.

Where To Go

Once you want to move on from backyard birding, look for wild parkland in towns or cities. Delta Ponds in Eugene, Jackson-Frazier Wetland in Corvallis, and Mount Talbert Nature Park or Oaks Bottom Wildlife Refuge in Portland all offer good birding opportunities within city limits.

The Willamette Valley also has an abundance of wildlife refuges that provide excellent birding opportunities. Be sure to check on seasonal closures at these sites, as many have restrictions in the late fall and winter to protect over-wintering populations. Fern Ridge west of Eugene, William L. Finley near Corvallis, Ankeny near Salem, and Tualatin River and Ridgefield near Portland are also popular destinations for local birders.


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