Today’s post comes from marketing specialist and bird watching enthusiast, Tanya Berkers.
When Ontario Parks signed on as a sponsor of the third Ontario Breeding Bird Atlas, I eagerly volunteered on one of the organizing committees.
I love bird watching and the Atlas is an important volunteer project that supports conservation and environmental policy across the province.
I wanted to contribute to the Atlas both behind the scenes and as an active data collector.
There’s just one problem: I’m not a good bird watcher and I have a lot of gaps in my knowledge.
The good news is that there are many tools available to help me (and you) take our bird watching skills to the next level.
Whether you’re completely new to the hobby or looking to improve your existing skills, these are some of the best tricks and tools I’ve found to improve my bird watching skills:
1. Learn from the experts
There’s nothing like spending time with a professional.
Keep an eye out for bird watching programs offered by the Discovery program or your local provincial park’s nature club.
Are you planning a visit to the park? Check that park’s Events page to find out if there are any birding events on the calendar.
Many naturalist and birding organizations offer free webinars that focus on specific aspects of birdwatching.
If podcasts are more your style, check out Birds Canada’s The Warblers, Songbirding, or one of the many other birding podcasts available.
Or you can follow nature organizations (like your favorite park) and birders on social media.
The Atlas has also compiled fantastic online learning resources. My personal favorite is Dendroica, which has lots of bird images and recordings plus a quiz feature.
There are also recordings of previous Atlas events available on their YouTube channel.
2. Try some new apps
I have a great field guide, but I don’t always carry it with me. If you are a smartphone user, there are amazing free tools that will make your life easier.
The Audubon Bird Guide from the National Audubon Society and Merlin Bird ID from the Cornell Lab
Both guides cover hundreds of North American species with sights, sounds, and distribution maps.
Both are great options for new and experienced birders.
It can be frustrating to hear a bird but the song or call is unfamiliar to you.
One of my favorite new apps can help! BirdNET allows you to record the sound and then uses artificial intelligence to identify the species for you.
It’s not always correct (the app will tell you how sure you are of your result), but it has helped me become more confident in birding by ear.
Merlin also has this characteristic.
Nature Counts is the app to contribute data directly to the third Ontario Breeding Bird Atlas. You will first need to register with Atlas.
This helps with the third item on this list…
I have been able to tap into my own competitive streak by setting personal challenges.
How many days in a row can I create a Nature Counts list during my lunchtime walk? Is there a Square Atlas nearby where I can double the number of survey hours?
You can start by focusing on species that are easy to identify.
If you see an American crow carrying nest materials, a wren singing outside your window in the past week, or a mourning dove nesting in the hanging basket on your porch, Atlas wants to know about it!
The more time you spend outside and actively watching birds, the faster your skills will improve.
Don’t be afraid to “improvise”!
Even with all the resources available to me, I sometimes get discouraged and self-conscious when I’m birding with people who are much more knowledgeable than me.
It can be difficult to share what you’ve found with other birders or on bird watching apps when you’re worried about making a mistake.
But I do my best to remember that everyone makes mistakes.
Like any discipline, there is always more to learn. In my experience, other birders are supportive and encouraging and of course, bird watching should always be fun!
There has never been a better time to be a birdwatcher. It’s an accessible hobby that anyone can do anywhere and doesn’t require much equipment.
Birdwatching can connect you to nature, improve your mental health, and is a great way to make friends in Ontario’s welcoming and growing birdwatching community.
As we approach the third season of the Ontario Breeding Bird Atlas, I hope you will consider improving your birding skills and collaborating on this huge team project.