From flocks of flamingos to solitary songbirds, birds put on some of the world’s greatest natural spectacles. Here’s how and where to watch our feathery friends...
Birds are the ultimate travellers. And something about their power of flight and their seasonal wanderings screams freedom and stirs the nomad in us all. No wonder, then, that the RSPB reckons some three million adults go birdwatching in the UK every year.
The best thing about birds is their sheer ubiquity. You’ll find birds in every environment: griffon vultures riding updrafts in the Himalaya; dune larks foraging in the sandy emptiness of the Namib Desert; golden eagles soaring in Scottish skies. Open your back door and you’ll discover that even the average suburban garden offers an impressive spectrum of species.
For avid enthusiasts, specialist bird-watching trips are offered all over the world, lead by experienced guides who will help you track down and identify the local avi-fauna. Many trips cater to seasoned ‘world listers’, who like to tick off species and might rack up 450 or more in a fortnight.
But birding locations don’t have to be exotic. With birds found pretty much everywhere, any car park, station platform or hotel window can produce the goods. And a spot of birdwatching can add an extra dimension to any trip.
You don’t need any equipment to get started with birdwatching, although a pair of binoculars that are comfortable to hold and wear around your neck will be useful. To identify what you’ve spotted, consult an illustrated field guide or download one of the many available smartphone apps.
Birds can enliven any travel experience – whether you’re looking for them or not. And it’s surprising what else you’ll notice once you start paying them attention – simply because birdwatching requires you to stop, listen and focus on your surroundings.
Silhouette of birdwatcher (Shutterstock.com)
Birds put on some of the world’s greatest natural spectacles. Some of the most incredible avian gatherings include the lake-loving flamingo flocks of Africa’s Rift Valley and the Bolivian Highlands, and the ‘Black Sun’ displays of roosting starlings on Denmark’s Wadden Sea or England’s Somerset Levels.
Still need convincing? The Wanderlust Team have put together a list of the world’s best birds to get you twitching. And Ecuador’s Ministry of Tourism have compiled a list of their country’s most eccentric birds to tempt you to swing by there neck of the woods.
Considering a birdwatching trip? Nick Boulos took one in Scotland and found it was a great introduction to the joys of birding, even for a novice like him.
The world’s best birds – Wanderlust Team
Ecuador’s top 10 eccentric birds – The Ministry of Tourism of Ecuador
Birdwatching for beginners in Scotland – Nick Boulos
Owl in flight (Shutterstock.com)
Where do the experts go when they want to spot a bird or two? Wildlife expert Mark Carwardine lists his top five birding experiences. And Kate Humble reveals her favourite birdwatching spots.
Urban birder David Lindo says you don’t have to head into the wilderness for a top-notch birdwatching experience. Cities are great places to spot birds too.
The world’s top 5 urban birding spots – David Lindo
Closeup of birdwatcher (Shutterstock.com)
Birds are skittish creatures. Getting close is not always an option. That’s why a good pair of binoculars are a worthwhile investment. There’s always a trade off between weight, size and optical performance, says Michaela Leeb from Swarovski, but once you figure out how you want to use them, the choice is relatively simple.
You might want to check out our digital birdwatching guide for even more advice on gear as well as a list of the top smartphone apps for birdwatchers.
How to buy binoculars – Michaela Leeb
Hummingbird in flight (Shutterstock.com)
Photographing birds presents a number of unique challenges compared with snapping land animals: your subject is often smaller, moves faster and is able to fly, not just run away!
Steve Davey is on hand with his tips on capturing these most colourful and enigmatic of subjects, from choosing the right gear through to understanding the habits of individual birds and using them to your advantage.
If it’s inspiration you’re after, look no further than the flappers snapped by our readers. Amazing!
Snapping flappers: photographing birds – Steve Davey
Kingfisher with fish (Shutterstock.com)
Ready to start planning your trip? Our Birdwatching Travel Guide is the place to start. Make sure you drop by our Birdwatching Travel Tips and Birdwatching recommendations pages for both inspiration and practical advice. And have a flick through our digital guide to birdwatching worldwide. We’ve rounded up the latest travel news about birdwatching too.
If you have a particular question about walking and trekking, pop over to the myWanderlust Forum where our knowledgeable community are ready to spring into action and share all that they know. Or check out the questions that have already been asked about birdwatching. The answer to yours might already be there.
Birdwatching Travel Guide – Wanderlust Team
Birdwatching travel tips – Wanderlust Team
Birdwatching recommendations – Wanderlust Team
Here’s a selection of fantastic tours offered by our partners. From spotting grebes in Northumberland to tailor-made tours in more exotic climes, there’s something for every taste and budget.
Main image: Closeup of parrot (Shutterstock.com)