If you find yourself frustrated when you can’t identify a bird because they’re too far away, or you’d just like a closer look, you are not alone. Getting closer to the birds in your backyard requires learning how to first be around birds, then how to approach them. With a few tips and tools at your fingertips, you can help birds get comfortable with your presence.
Get Closer With a Lens
Binoculars are the most common tool birdwatchers reach for whether they’re heading out to a park or their own backyard. They’re portable, lightweight, and offer a natural three-dimensional view of a bird. When it comes to choosing the magnification strength, experts recommend choosing between 7x and 10x. If you buy only one pair of binoculars, a safe bet is an 8x.
Binoculars offer a choice of two basic configurations – Porro prism or roof prism. The traditional binocular shape is associated with Porro prism, while a narrower, compact design is associated with roof prism. While the Porro prism tends to be less expensive, figuring out what you like and taking ergonomics into consideration is best when shopping for binoculars.
See also: Spotting Scope vs. Binoculars
A scope, also referred to as a spotting scope, is an excellent choice for those times when binoculars aren’t enough. While more of an investment and not as portable as a pair of binoculars, a spotting scope offers greater magnification. They are a good option when you are viewing a bird from a distance while trying not to disturb them. A scope is is perfect for viewing a bird that would be difficult to get closer to such as marsh birds, birds that tend to perch at high altitudes, and birds sitting in their nests.
Get Closer Without a Lens
If you long to get closer to the birds who frequent your backyard feeders, there are several ways to do so without using a lens at all. Try any or all of these four tips to help you get closer to your backyard birds.
1. Camouflage Yourself
To get closer to birds, you need to make yourself part of the environment so as not to startle and scare them away. Birds tend to have poor vision when it comes to colors, but if you are wearing bright colors, they will detect that contrast from their environment. If you’re moving about, the movement and flashes of bright color will alert them to your presence. Wearing earth tones and darker colors will help you blend into the background. There’s no need to buy camouflage clothing (unless you desire to do so). Wearing brown, black, and green clothing can achieve the same effect.
See also: Flower Colors that Attract Birds
2. Use a Bird Blind
Photographers often use a blind to conceal themselves from their subject when out shooting. A blind can be helpful in getting closer to birds who frequent your backyard feeders in the same way. Because birds tend to be wary of humans, a bird blind is a great way to get closer to them without startling or frightening them away. You can purchase pop up blinds, usually in camouflage colors, that can be set up and taken down in minutes. Because they are so portable, you can move your blind depending on the birds you are looking for, the location of the sun, and the time of the day. If your goal is to take pictures, bird blinds enclose you while leaving you an opening for your camera lens.
3. Get Close Step by Step
If sitting in a bird blind with a camera doesn’t appeal to you, you can get closer to birds step by step. Walking right up to a bird will likely cause it to depart abruptly. It may even result in that bird not returning to your feeders.
Instead of walking directly toward a bird, you can take a different approach, heading in their direction in a more roundabout way. Take steps using zig-zag movements. Lightly step toward the bird when their head is down, or their attention is focused on whatever they’re eating. The minute the bird raises its head, freeze like a statue. This simple strategy will allow you to get closer to the birds while appearing to be part of the background during the times you stand motionless.
4. Sit Still
If you want to get closer to the birds in your backyard, you can also just sit still. Placing a bench in your yard can do double duty by offering you a place to sit quietly and think or approach birds in a non-threatening way.
Put a bench under the trees and place a bird feeder right next to it. Be sure the feeder is always full of seed so birds will make it a consistent stop at feeding times. Like any other feeder in your yard, it will take some time to draw birds.
See also: Is it Okay to Hand Feed Birds?
Once you have birds regularly feeding there, add a seated scarecrow to your bench with an old glove as a hand. Keep the glove full of seeds so that birds eventually are eating out of the ‘palm of its hand.' The scarecrow’s resemblance of a human shape without any sudden movements will help birds become comfortable with a presence at the feeder. Once you see birds regularly feeding at the scarecrow, replace the mock human with yourself. Remember to emulate the scarecrow’s presence by remaining motionless and silent. Consistency is key, but eventually you will have birds eating within inches of you, hopefully out of your hand, giving you a close-up view of their every detail.
When Close is Too Close
While getting closer to birds may allow you to enjoy their beauty even more, there is such a thing as getting too close. While some species are more social than others, all species of birds have their limits. Getting too close will likely sound their alarm.
In the spring and summer, you need to take extra care, as it’s more likely a bird will be sitting on a nest or tending to nestlings. Disturbing a nesting bird can result in the bird becoming startled and abandoning the nest. While this won’t occur easily, birds will also resort to dive-bombing to get you to back off. While it might sound comical, dive bombing has resulted in birdwatchers getting pecked or scratched. It’s also a danger to the bird as they are expending their energy fending you off instead of tending to their eggs or young.
It’s important to always respect birds by being mindful. Whether you choose binoculars, a scope, bird blinds, or just sitting still, your backyard birds will enjoy a meal while you enjoy a closer view.