What do I need? This is a question that anyone starting out in bird watching asks themselves. For many nature lovers the most essential items form part of our own bodies: eyes, ears and legs. Simply sharpening the senses is the best tool. However, the following provides a list to be fully equipped and informed.


One thing is clear: birds are rarely close. So the first thing we need is something to help us get closer visually: binoculars.

Given the variety of brands, models and prices on the market, it is normal to feel a little disoriented. The first thing to look at is the numbers etched on all binoculars, e.g. 8x30, 8x40 10x42, etc. The first digit corresponds to the binoculars' magnification, the second is the diameter in millimetres of the binoculars' exit pupil and the higher this figure is the brighter -but also the bigger and the heavier- the binoculars will be. For bird watching the ideal number of magnification is between 8 and 10, while a suitable size for the exit pupil is between 30 and 42 millimetres. Accordingly, binoculars ideal for bird watching are those between 8x30 and 10x42. The former are most useful to watching birds in habitats with vegetation and at a short distance, while the latter offer advantages in open areas or at sea.

Moreover, there are certain binoculars with characteristic shapes: the Porro and the roof. Porro binoculars have on the inside a prism that increases the distance between the exit pupils of the binoculars. Roof binoculars, though, have the appearance of two tubes connected by a bridge. Most of the world's manufacturers currently choose roof binoculars, which are generally more compact and lighter.

The existing price range is very large. Beginners do not need a particularly expensive model. The main advantage of expensive models is that they usually have a liquid nitrogen filling inside which makes them watertight, so they are more durable and offer advantages such as a lack of condensation on the inside.


Fields guides

Fortunately, the market today has many bird identification guides. Based on preferences, we can choose among them, although there is broad consensus that guides with drawings are much better than photograph guides. This is because drawings offer the birds' feathers and standardised positions and provide more images depending on whether it is a male or female, young or old, etc.

For Europe as a whole, the reference work has long been Collins Bird Guide (Svensson, L., Mullarney, K. and D. Zetterstrom 2009. 2nd edition. Harper Collins).

For Galicia, highly recommended is the Guía das aves de Galicia by X. M. Penas Patiño and C. Pedreira López, with illustrations by C. Silvar (2004, editorial Baía), which also contains a useful CD-ROM of songs.


Field notebook

Noting the birds seen as well as the time and place where they were seen and taking notes on their characteristics, number and behaviour are essential to taking our interest a step further. A small, flexible and resistant notebook is a very useful tool. Semi-rigid and sewn covers are the best.



Now that you've got a good birding season under your belt you might at times get frustrated because when you get to a lagoon or an estuary, birds are far away and your binoculars fall short: it's time to think about buying a telescope.

Due to its high price and, in general, long duration, extra thought should be given before buying. Forget astronomical telescopes because they do not serve for bird watching. You'll need a spotting scope. Again, the price range is very high and, as with binoculars, attention should be paid to the numbers. Magnification generally has two figures -instead of one like binoculars- and is usually 20-60x; that is, instead of having fixed magnification, there is a zoom that is useful to locate the birds and then hone in on details of them at a distance. The diameter of the exit pupil is highly variable, between 60mm and 80mm, although telescopes with a larger exit pupil are on the market. The larger the exit pupil, the higher the brightness and therefore the greater the viewing quality, especially in low light, although it is also heavier. An ideal telescope is a 20-60x60 mm or 20-60x80 mm.

Use of a telescope requires a good tripod that is robust and light at the same time. Once again there is a variety of materials and prices on the market.



Today, technology greatly facilitates bird watching. Once we know where we go, it is advisable to plan field trips and routes. To do this, it is best to have a smartphone with one of the many applications available on the market that enable map and position viewing simultaneously.

In addition, a smartphone allows us to take the birds' songs and calls into the field so as to dispel any doubt that may arise. It is very useful and allows us to progress faster in our ability to detect birds.

Do you find places and birds that draw your attention? Do you also want to communicate where you saw such and such a species? A GPS device that accurately saves locations is best in this connection. It will also enable you to create itineraries that you liked or were interested in for some reason and then repeat them. There are smartphone apps that can be used as GPS.


Clothing, shoes, backpacks

As for clothing and footwear, you do not need particularly sophisticated equipment but it is always worth remembering that you will spend hours in the field, so you should protect yourself against the cold, sun or rain: polar fleeces, raincoats, caps, gloves or hats are garments that are helpful.

If we seek to go unnoticed on our field trips, it is a good idea to dress in muted colours.

Footwear is important to be comfortable: it is not pleasant to go birding with cold and wet feet, or to walk through rocky terrain with sandals. Think about where you are going and choose the right footwear.

Your equipment is not complete without a small and comfortable backpack to carry water, food and a field guide.



You may want to document your observations with photos: nowadays technology puts more in our reach than a decade ago. To do this, there is nothing better than having a good SLR camera and a large telephoto lens, but this is an expensive option that is heavy. There are cameras with other formats that have a long zoom and acceptable quality at affordable prices and more manageable weight.

If you already have a telescope, then you should learn about digiscoping: a technique whereby digital cameras (including compact cameras) are attached to the telescope to obtain images. There are plenty of commercial and even more craft options. The quality of the final result depends on the equipment as a whole.


Online resources

Currently there are many online resources to plan outings to the countryside, visually or audibly identify birds and learn more about them.

The following are useful sites about birds:

Specifically for bird songs:


In a group, rather than alone

Obviously, if you start out birding alone, your progress will be slow. Going on outings with experienced observers will help you learn quicker. Moreover, it is always important to discuss observations and listen to other observers, as it will improve skills and increase knowledge about birds.

There are dozens of existing ornithological societies, from the local to global. In Galicia there is the Sociedade Galega de Ornitoloxía (SGO, www.sgosgo.org) and, in Spain, the Sociedad Española de Ornitología (SEO/BirdLife, www.seo.org) is the leader. This organisation's international website is www.birdlife.com.

These organisations (and many others) also offer specialised discussion forums which have answers to many questions and provide information and an opportunity share knowledge with others interested in birding.