How to Be a Good Birdwatcher

At Home

Feeding birds at home can offer hours of pleasure and excellent opportunities to study birds close up.

However, it is important to remember the following:

 Since you will be attracting birds to a specific area, make sure that area is safe from potential hazards:

  • Keep your cats inside.  Do not lure birds to areas where others’ cats roam freely.
  • Try to prevent window collisions:
    • Apply decals, feathers, ribbons, screens, or other items to break up reflections at problem spots.
    • Place feeders within 3 feet of windows or at least 30 feet away from them.
  • Keep your feeders (and birdbaths) clean.  Dirty feeders can encourage disease and do more harm than good.
  • Keep your feeders filled, especially during harsh weather.  The birds will come to rely on you as a backup to their natural sources of food.
  • If you put out hummingbird feeders, be sure to change the nectar at least once a week.  At the same time, clean the feeders thoroughly.
  • Artificial nest boxes should be placed in predator-safe spots and be cleaned out completely between seasons.
  • Do not handle injured birds.  Contact your local wildlife rehabilitator if you see an injured bird or other animal.
  • Do not handle baby birds unless you are sure they are in distress.  Fledglings sometimes appear to be in trouble, but they are usually simply learning how to manage.  A watchful parent is almost always nearby. 

In the Field – The Basics

The welfare of the birds must come first.

The principal ethical rule for birdwatchers is this:  Have no impact on the birds.

  • Respect the birds’ territories.  Avoid going too close to birds or disturbing their habitats.  If a bird flies away or makes repeated alarm calls, you’re too close.
  • Be especially conscious of your actions around nesting and roosting birds, which are more sensitive to disturbance than at other times.  Disturbance can keep birds from their nests, leaving chicks hungry or enabling predators to take eggs or young.
  • Be careful during cold weather or when migrants have just made a long flight.  Repeatedly flushing birds at those times can mean they use up vital energy.  This puts their lives at risk.
  • Avoid the use of recordings, calls, or whistles to attract birds, which can disrupt the birds’ normal feeding, mating, and brood-rearing activities.
  • Stay on marked trails and avoid entering restricted areas.
  • Wear appropriate attire for birdwatching:
    • Wear muted colors.  A sudden flash of white or other bright colors can scare some birds.
    • Know what the weather is likely to be and dress for it.  Wear sun protection gear such as sunscreen and sunglasses, and have rain protection gear available.  Wear footgear suitable for the area you’re birding. And don’t forget insect repellant!


  • Be aware of the impact photography can have on birds.  Avoid lingering around nests or territories for long periods.
  • Refrain from using flash when photographing birds.
  • Make every effort to ensure that the bird you are photographing is not stressed in any way.  At the first signs of stress by the bird, back off!

Dealing with Others Who May Not be Birders

  • Respect private property.  Don’t enter private property without permission.
  • Practice common courtesy in contacts with other people.  Your exemplary behavior will generate goodwill with birders and non-birders alike.
  • If you discover a rarity, you must take responsibility for the decision to release the find.  Consider the circumstances carefully before you release the information.  You should consider whether an influx of birders will disturb the bird, people, or other species in the area; whether habitat will be damaged; and where people will park.  Inform the landowner of the find, explain what may happen and obtain permission to tell other birders.
  • Patronize businesses that are supporters of bird conservation. Let them know that support travels both ways.
  • Be careful to avoid pointing binoculars or scopes at people or homes.

Dealing with Other Birders

  •  Respect the interests, rights, and skills of fellow birders, as well as those of people participating in other legitimate outdoor activities.  Be patient.
  • Try not to disrupt other birders’ activities or scare the birds they are watching.
  • On field trips, stay behind the leader, so when a bird is spotted, everyone can stop and get a chance to see the bird.
  • When you see a bird, share your observations with other birders in the group.  More pairs of eyes focused on the area means more birders able to contribute to the bird’s identification.
  • Turn cell phones off.
  • Leave pets at home.
  • Carpool whenever possible. This is a great way to get to know new folks, swap birding stories, and learn a lot.  When carpooling, chip in to help cover the cost of the trip.
  • Come to the field prepared with your own materials so you are not dependent on the generosity of others for your observations.
  • On the other hand, be willing to share field guides, scopes and other birding equipment with birders in your group.  Not everyone may have the same resources.
  • When using someone else’s scope, take a quick look at the bird, move aside until everyone has taken a look, and then go back for a longer look. And offer to carry the scope if it’s a long hike Keep conversations minimal and voices soft.

On the Road

  • When birdwatching from a road, pull safely to the side when you stop. Pull as far over onto the shoulder as possible.  Make sure hills and curves don’t hide you from behind or hinder others’ ability to pass you safely.
  • Pay attention to your driving!

When Not Actively Birding

  • Join a local bird club.
  • Read books and magazines about birds.  The more you know, the more you are likely to enjoy birding.
  • Support the protection of birds and their habitat.
  • Keep track of what local, state, and federal government measures exist that affect birds and what changes are being considered.
  • Buy a duck stamp.
  • Encourage everyone you know to become a birder.  Share your knowledge and enthusiasm with family, friends, and strangers; young and old alike.  The more birders there are, the better it will be for the birds

Carroll County Chapter of Maryland Ornithological Society

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