Birdwatching is a great way to get outside and learn about nature. If you want to give it a go, here’s some advice from Watershed Watch founder, and lifelong birder, Dr. Craig Orr.

Illustration of a Northern Saw-Whet Owl.

Northern saw-whet owl by Charlotte S. Matthews.

Growing up in the country, Craig spent much of his childhood outside, which inspired his love of nature and piqued his interest in birds. One of his first summer jobs was for the US National Forest Service taking life-listers to go and see the Kirtland’s Warbler.

NB. Life-listers are birders who aim to see as many different types of birds as possible in their lifetimes.

How to get started

Gear – The only equipment you absolutely need is a good pair of binoculars. Craig prefers a light small pair. Others choose heavier wide angle lenses. It is worth the money to invest in a decent pair.

Guidebook – The other must-have is a good guidebook. There are many to choose from. Ask people in your area what books they are using and you’ll get some good local recommendations. Craig likes guidebooks by B.C bird expert Richard Cannings. (You don’t need an app to go birding, but there are some great ones out there that can identify bird songs and range, as well as log your observations.)

Location – You can go birdwatching almost anywhere. Where you go depends on where you live. You can see different species of birds in urban areas, in forests, in wetlands, or at the beach, or out on a boat. The nice thing about parks and protected areas is that there is usually a greater number and variety of species of birds to observe.


Birds of a feather – Look for a birding club in your area. Clubs often take newbies under their wing, so to speak, offering guided walks and tips for local birdwatching.

A must-read – If you want to learn more about birds and their behaviour, Craig highly recommends reading the Bird Way by Jennifer Ackerman.

What if you love it?

If you really enjoy yourself, and start to spend a bit of time at it, you will start to get to know your local birds.

A new birdwatcher usually starts out with a pair of binoculars and their nose in a field guide, but after a while they will get to know a Swainson’s thrush by its fluting notes, or a junco by its white tail feathers, or a flicker by its white rump patch and undulating flight.

People have their favourite birds, Craig’s is the northwestern crow with its bold attitude, regal looks and high intelligence. 

And who knows, maybe you will become a life-lister. Have fun out there and let us know how it goes!

Illustrations courtesy of Charlotte S. Matthews. Click here to view more of Charlotte’s art.