Basic and Essential Tools


     Technically, you only need your eyes and ears. There are even some purists that believe birders should not use binoculars. I’m not one of those people. Good binoculars and a field guide are essential. The rule of thumb is to buy the best binoculars you can afford. Cheap binoculars end up making you frustrated. Good binoculars are a joy to use. Seeing that gorgeous bird fill your field of view, sharp and bright, is awesome. Here are some binocular recommendations:

     Purchase full size binoculars, 8x42 is a great all around size. It allows a wide field of view and close focusing, great when you’re in the woods. If you’re under 50 years old and you have very steady hands, then you might try 10x42. These will bring the bird closer, but will will amplify hand shake. If you purchase very high end optics, ($1000+), then you might try 8 or 10 x32. These will be lighter, but the field of view might be narrower and will not be quite as bright.

     I do not recommend purchasing small, pocket sized binoculars for watching birds, they are very difficult to use, especially on a fast moving bird. Zoom binoculars are also not recommended. Here’s a short primer:

8x42, the 8 or first number, refers to the number of times closer you will see the bird. 8X means you will see the bird eight times closer. The 42 describes the width, in millimeters, of the objective lens. The larger the objective, the more light will be let in. However the binocular will become heavier as the size of the objective increases. A ratio of approximately 5:1 is best, hence 8x42.

Of course binoculars are constructed like everything else, well made or cheap. Variables include being waterproof, balance, smooth focusing action, quality optics, wide field of view, weight, eye relief and close focusing. Some binoculars will have terrific specifications, but because they are cheaply made, will become misaligned the first time you drop or knock them- and you will. If you wear glasses, it is essential you get binoculars with lots of eye relief. It is best to try several pairs in the store before you buy them. Everyone’s face is different and not all binoculars work for everyone! Buy from a reputable dealer, one who will let you return them, in case you change your mind.

Where to buy binoculars

I’ve bought from Amazon, B&H and Adorama, they are reliable companies. We’ve also purchased terrific binoculars from the Cape May Observatory, where they let you try them out in the field. Many Audubon centers sell binos. It’s nice to buy from them, knowing their profit goes to a good cause. There are other reliable companies as well. If you go on the internet and find the binoculars too cheap, don’t buy them! There are many bogus places out there. Their web pages look sophisticated and slick but you will be miserable when you have to deal with these companies. I’ve used many binoculars and can help you choose, just email me and I can make suggestions. (jack

That’s me, a few years ago, testing binoculars. In the last few years, binoculars have really improved. You can get a really nice pair of binos for not much money these days. Be sure to try out several, by asking folks on a bird walk. Most birders are happy to share their opinion. Many birders are purchasing Nikon Monarchs. They come in several price ranges and Nikon gives you a great warranty. These seem to work well for a variety of faces. You can also check out the Celestron Nature DX for about $125, a really nice binocular for a modest price.  There are now so many excellent binoculars that are waterproof and light. Zeiss has come out with a pair for about $350 that seem terrific. Do as much research as you can before buying.
Here’s the latest tests from Cornell Lab of Ornithology.prices are not accurate.

Field Guides

   I have several field guides. Sometimes, when I can’t identify a bird in one, another guide will be great. There are many good guides. Look below for some favorites:

There are other field guides as well, many people like the National Geographic series, I do too- but it’s too big and heavy for me. You can get most of these guides for a lot less on Amazon. Have fun!

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