How to start birding
Viewing birds can be thrilling in Nebraska whether it is viewing a bright red Summer Tanager singing in the top of a tree in the eastern woodlands, large flocks of Sandhill Cranes and waterfowl in the central region, or being awestruck by the sheer power and large wingspan of the Golden Eagle in the western part of the state. Whether you are an expert birder or just starting out, here are some helpful tips to enhance your birding experience.
Plan your birding adventure
Whether planning a short, local outing or a multiday birding trip, use the Nebraska Birding Guide’s interactive map, ecological regions, or notable Nebraska birds to help you decide where to bird. Use the coordinates for each site to take you to parking areas, trailheads, and other locations at the birding sites. Before you go, consider the season, look up local species occurrences, check the weather, pack all the essentials (gear, sunscreen, water, snacks, insect-repellent, etc.), and wear proper clothing and footwear for the terrain.
Get out there and practice
Start early in the mornings when most birds are active and singing. Be patient, quiet, and observant to have the best opportunities for viewing those shy, quiet species and to prevent scaring other birds. Take a moment to soak in your surroundings, notice the different habitats, exposed perches, view the sky for flyovers, and listen. Often you will hear a bird before you see it. Start by becoming familiar with the birds in your backyard or local greenspace.
Consider joining a bird club or organization and go birding with experienced birders during the organized field trips and meetings. See the bottom of the Resources page for links to Nebraska Bird Organizations, chapters, and clubs across the state.
Birds come in all shapes and sizes. Start by looking at the size relative to birds you already are familiar with such as tiny House Wrens to large Bald Eagles. Look at the shape; is it similar to a songbird, shorebird, duck, or raptor? Notice the shape and size of the beak and legs.
Spend time observing a bird’s behavior and the habitat they are in. Is the bird perching in the top of a tree that is in the middle of the woods? Is the bird foraging with a flock in a plowed field?
Become familiar with body parts and the common field marks on birds, such as wingbars, eye-rings and eye-stripe. Take note of the different colors on the body such as a yellow chest, white belly and brown back. These different markings and colors can help narrow down what species you are viewing.
Don’t harm or stress birds, leave nests alone, respect other birders, respect property boundaries. Pack out what you pack in.
Mobile apps are also a great option especially in central Nebraska where carrying a large field guide of both eastern and western species can get heavy. Apps often include the bird songs and calls, which can be useful for confirming a bird ID.
From the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, this app is free, instant bird ID help for 5,500+ birds for North and South America, Europe, Asia, and Australia.
The Audubon Bird Guide is a free and complete field guide to over 800 species of North American birds, right in your pocket.
eBird is a community science platform that allows you to keep track of the birds you hear or see, explore bird observations from locations all over the world, and the bird observations are used in bird science and conservation research.
eBird is used for the Nebraska Birding Bowl, a month long birding competition for all skill-levels during Nebraska Bird Month. The tutorials below were created for the Birding Bowl, but much of the information and steps is applicable for using eBird at any time.
The guide covers:
- Creating an eBird account.
- Submitting eBird checklists via the mobile app or the website.
- Sharing checklists with others you are birding with.
- Creating Trip Reports.
- Adding your Yard Location.