Birdwatching in the city: a beginner’s guide
One of the best things about birding is that you can do it wherever you happen to find yourself. Whether you’re in your own back garden, travelling to the remotest corners of the globe, or simply popping out to the shops, birds are everywhere, and there’s always the potential of seeing something interesting.
That’s why I have three pairs of binoculars in my personal birding arsenal. My full-size 10x42s are my default go-to binocular when I’m at home, when I go out specifically to watch birds or other wildlife or when I’m guiding. My compact 8x30s are ideal for travel, in the car, heading into town to do the shopping, or anywhere else where full-size bins might be cumbersome or unwieldy. My pocket 10x25s are for times when you wouldn’t normally consider carrying a binocular at all. They slip easily and unobtrusively into a jacket pocket. I call them my “wedding and funeral bins” — and I’m only half joking.
The point is, as a birder you never know when you might need a pair of binoculars. Birding is an always-on occupation… on the coast, in the middle of the country, or even at the heart of a busy city.
People are often surprised by just how much bird life (and indeed other wildlife) there is to see in our busy urban centres. Many bird species are great opportunists, adept at exploiting our excesses to their advantage. Others are just passing through our towns and cities — fleeting visitors that typically make a bee-line for the more natural spaces in the urban jungle. Parks and waterways in built-up areas act as magnets, concentrating birds and wildlife into a small area. It’s not uncommon to find a much higher density and variety of birds in a city park than you would in an equivalent area of open countryside.
That’s not to suggest that birding in the city is better than birding in wide open spaces… it patently isn’t. But if you open your eyes to the potential of urban birding you might be surprised by what you find.
The Urban Birding Champion
One person who’s been extolling the virtues of urban birding for years is David Lindo. Under the moniker of “The Urban Birder”, David is a regular on UK TV, radio and print media, preaching the gospel of urban birding (and by extension other wildlife) to as wide a congregation as possible.
It’s a laudable goal… goodness knows people embroiled in the chaos and hubbub of modern city life could do with some re-connection to the natural world. It lifts the spirits, calms the soul and adds a healthy dollop of perspective to counteract the trials of urban living.
Urban Birding: A Self-help Guide
David’s latest book “How to be an Urban Birder”, published as part of the Wild-Guides series by Princeton University Press, is all about encouraging more people to watch birds in urban areas.
It is more a “self-help” style guide than a step-by-step instruction manual. You won’t find prescriptive lists of actions here. Instead, David covers the basics in a logical sequence, delivering relevant information on the various aspects of urban birding: from looking at various urban habitats and some of the birds you’re likely to see there (David is a UK-based birder, so there’s a natural UK bias here); to choosing bird-watching equipment like binoculars, spotting scopes and clothing; and fieldcraft tips to help you get closer to birds you find, the book covers all the essentials. It’s peppered throughout with references to David’s own urban birding experiences to both
While the writing doesn’t always flow as cleanly as it might, that’s more than made up for by David’s boundless enthusiasm for the topic. There is little new here for the seasoned birder — but then it’s important to remember that’s not David’s intended audience. For people with a budding interest in watching the birds around them, particularly those in urban environments, this should prove a very useful guide.
One other aspect of the book that deserves a mention are the superb visuals. It’s packed with great photographs and excellent illustrations.
“How to be an Urban Birder” by David Lindo is published by Princeton University Press and is available now online and from all good bookshops.