Best Bird Watching Gear (2024): Everything You Need to Start Birding

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Bird-watching, or birding, is an admittedly curious pastime. You’re essentially spying on little feathery creatures trying to go about their lives. Rather than landing you in jail though, this hobby can actually make you friends, improve your focus and concentration, and enrich your life. (Maybe even get you a show on Nat Geo.)

If you’ve been on the fence about trying it, now is a great time to start. The Great Backyard Bird Count—where everyone around the world takes four days to count birds and report them to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and the Audubon Society—happens in February. You can join birders around the world in recording your sightings from February 16 to 19, 2024. See the website for more details on how to participate.

To start birding, just slow down, be quiet, and start observing the world around you—it’s full of birds. That said, there are some basic tips and gear that can improve your bird-watching experience, and some others that are just plain fun to have. Thanks to my parents, I’ve been birding since I was born, but whether you’re a veteran bird-watcher or a total newcomer, there’s something here for everyone.

Updated February 2024: We’ve added some notes about the upcoming Great Backyard Bird Count, a new pair of Celestron binoculars, a new backpack, two new books, and some more resources for birders. We’ve also updated links and prices throughout.

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Get Some Binoculars

Once you’ve made the decision to start paying attention to birds, the biggest upgrade you can make to your birding life is a good pair of binoculars. Binoculars range greatly in price, from under $100 to well over $2,000. If you’re all in and have the money, by all means, go for a pair of Leica or Swarovski binoculars; you will not be disappointed. I can still tell you every bird I saw during the time I borrowed my friend’s Leica pair.

There’s no need to spend that much, though. The top pick in our Best Binoculars guide are these Nikon Monarch M5 8×42 binoculars. The Monarch M5s strike an excellent balance between optical power, quality, and price. The glass in these provides nice, bright views with little chromatic aberration (the distortions or fringing that you sometimes see around objects in bright sunlight).

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