Where & How to Find Birds

The best part about looking for birds — they can be found everywhere and by everyone!

If you are new to birding (ornithology) and wonder how to get started I’ll offer some beginner tips.  The resource page on this web site will offer suggestions on more in-depth research on birding.

Looking for Birds for the First Time

Take a walk outside and listen.  Before you know it you will be hearing the sounds of birds.  They live everywhere!  As a beginner you can begin to pay attention to the birds around you during your usual routines – in and out of the house, on the way to work or school, in the parking lot of the grocery or convenience store, outside your favorite coffee shop.  Birds will be in all those spots.

Begin to take notice of where you see those birds and what the birds are doing.  Are they always in a tree, hopping around the parking lot, traveling with other birds of the same kind, sitting alone, always singing, only making sounds when they are angry, eating from a feeder, eating vegetation, eating bugs or worms?  Birds are creatures of habit.  They tend to eat the same way, rest the same way, and interact the same way every day.

Before you know it you will be predicting when you will see a certain bird and you will be right!

An inexpensive birding book or a free app for your smart phone will be helpful.  Either will help you identify and learn a little about the usual habits of the birds you are seeing.

Looking for Birds after Gaining a Little Experience

So now you can predict when you will see birds during your usual routine and you are consistently right.  It is time to begin looking for birds outside your usual routine.

Think about where you might walk for even a few minutes during your day to find new birds.   Even walking a block that takes you to a new environment – more trees, fewer trees, a water source, a different type of vegetation, bird feeders, flowers, berries, busy location with people, quiet area free from people and other animals – will open up a whole new world of birds.  Start walking through these new areas and listening for birds.  You will soon discover a whole new world of birds different from those you see on your usual routine.

Things to consider:

  • Each type of bird has its own unique feeding preferences. Some eat from feeders, some on the grass looking for bugs or worms, some eat berries growing in trees, some find their food inside a tree.  Even if you already see birds of one kind on a bird feeder don’t forget to look on the ground below and the trees above for other types of birds that will never sit on a feeder.
  • Each type of bird has its own unique habitat preferences. Some like to stay high up in the trees, some prefer to stay hidden in dense bushes, some enjoy being out and about.  Even if you are seeing birds in the parking area near your home, a street or lot, pay attention to the trees, bushes and any water sources in the area.  A variety of birds can be in one geographic area, but rarely share the same space.

What’s Migration All About

If you are reading this in Iowa you are very fortunate.  Iowa enjoys many birds during migration!  In the spring many small, colorful birds stop in Iowa to re-fuel and rest as they head north.  If you want to search for birds coming through you might use key words such as “Iowa spring migration” or “spring warblers.”  You should be provided lists of birds with pictures and estimated times of year that you will see the birds in Iowa.

In the fall many water birds stop in Iowa to re-fuel and rest as they head south.  Consider searching using key words such as “Iowa fall bird migration” or “fall ducks.”  You should be provided lists of birds with pictures and estimated times of year that you will see the birds in Iowa.

Bird migrations are different in the spring and in the fall.  The birds stopping over during the spring on their way north don’t necessarily stop in the fall on their way south.  Similarly, the birds stopping in the fall on the way south don’t necessarily stop on their way back north in the spring.

However, if a bird stops in April of one year it is very likely going to stop in that same spot in April of the next year.  Once you’ve seen birds in a certain place in a certain month you can begin to predict that you will see the same bird in the same place on the same day next year!

Keeping a List

Birders love to keep lists of the birds they see.  They keep lists by the year and lists by lifetime.  Birders keep track of how many types of birds they see in a calendar year.  They also keep track of how many birds they see in their lifetime.  Frequently when people list birds they will include an abbreviation if it is the first time to see the bird – FOY (first of year) is for a bird spotted for the first time in a calendar year, while FOL (first of life) is for a bird spotted for the first time in that person’s life.

While keeping a list people will often include the type of bird, where it was spotted, the first date on which it was seen, and any special comment that person wants to remember.  Some people will also list how many of each type of bird they see on each date they look for birds.   Some people make notes in their bird books, some create special spreadsheets, some track online through eBird or some other web site.  Don’t worry about your list or your tracking method.  There is no right or wrong method.  Looking for birds should be fun.