Rob Macklin, former warden, making a bird census. North Warren RSPB reserve

Useful bird watching equipment

The only essential pieces of equipment you need to enjoy watching and identifying birds are your eyes and ears (and there are plenty of hearing- and visually-impaired people who enjoy birds, too)


A small, hardback notebook which fits in your pocket is usually the best kind. Remember that, if it gets rained on, anything written in ink will run, but pencil won't.

If you come across a bird which you can't identify, make some notes about it there and then so you have an accurate description of what you saw and heard. If you try to remember later on, you may find that time has changed what you saw. First impressions can be very important.

You don't need to describe every feather on a bird's body. Note down its shape, what its beak and legs are like, and its habitat and behaviour, as well as the main colours. If it makes a noise, try to describe it. Sketches can also be useful, though you don't need to be a wildlife artist!

Bird watching at Exe Estuary, Devon

Bird book

Hundreds of books about birds are available. Ones designed to be put into your pocket when you're out and about are often called 'fieldguides'.

To avoid confusion, a book which contains only birds which occur in Britain is best to start with. Books with illustrations (paintings) are better than those with photographs, as light conditions and camera settings mean colours in photographs vary enormously. Don't be afraid to take your book out with you. You never know when you may need it!

Fieldguides may use technical jargon for parts of birds (eg. primaries, tarsus, supercilium). It would be useful to get to know these.

Pocket Guide of British Birds, RSPB membership incentives


Binoculars are not essential but can be very useful. You don't need to spend a vast amount of money on binoculars to get a decent pair - there are very good models available for less than £100. 

'Compact' binoculars can be very useful if you want to carry them with you at all times, as they can easily be slipped into a pocket. However, their small size may not suit people with big hands and the cheapest binoculars are often of poor quality, which could put you off using them!

Full-size binoculars need not be heavy or awkward to use, or expensive. Modern products are getting better and better and there are plenty of good ones at fairly low prices. Always try before you buy!

Chris Bailey looking out over rape field with binoculars