Watching birds fluttering to the birdbath and pecking at the seeds on the bird table can be a source of delight to anyone lucky enough to have a garden.
But for those without one, it can be easy to miss out on this, one of life’s simple but great pleasures.
So here’s something you might be interested to know: many birdwatchers use sound, rather than sight, to spot birds. Which means if you don’t have a garden of your own, you can still be a birdwatcher.
The delights of birdsong
Next time you throw open a window, are taking a walk or waiting for a bus, adjust your ears and listen to what’s around you. And once you start to tune in, you’ll discover the amazing sound of birdsong.
Even if you live in a urban area, you’ll be surprised at what you can hear walking home from the pub. Birds such as robins and blackbirds can’t always compete with the urban noise of traffic and may mistake bright street lights for dawn, so will sing and call at night when it’s quieter and the air is calmer. In fact, the robin is the most common night-time songster in Britain’s towns and gardens.
I started watching birds as a hobby as an adult. I always had an interest in wildlife but despite growing up in the countryside didn’t take advantage of the natural world around me. Distinguishing different bird calls takes a lot of practice and is much easier to learn when you’re younger.
Our hearing changes with age and some birds, such as goldcrest, have a call not available to more mature ears!
So how do we use sound to identify birds? By listening out and following their song you can pinpoint the bush or tree the bird is calling from. Then raise your binoculars to spot your prize.
I still have a lot to learn, but I surprise myself at how I can now start to hear calls of warblers and finches I never noticed before.
Wandering through a town and hearing the calling of a group of long-tailed tits gathered in branches while shoppers totally ignore them below is a wonderful experience. I love the fact that in a busy street I can be the only one aware of the natural spectacle above – but I also want to shout to the people around, stop and look!
Visit your local reserve
Many towns have small reserves scattered around, an oasis of green space, a small body of water, or even a large wildlife reserve on their doorstep.
At first, going into a hide can be quite daunting. You walk in and it’s full of serious-looking birdwatchers sporting huge scopes, cameras and binoculars. But don’t be afraid to ask people what they’ve seen, and if you don’t know your great-crested grebe from your pochard, just say. Many birders love to share their passion and before you know it they will be setting up their scope to allow you to see a shoveler.
The golden rule in the hide is to try to be quiet – although many birders will forgive the excitement of someone spotting their first bittern!
Bird watching is a hobby anyone can enjoy and doesn’t call for much expense or equipment.
There are lots of free apps to download or you can borrow a guide from a library. And binoculars are obviously useful, but not essential, when starting out.
Some serious birders like to keep lists by year and by lifetime. But that’s a personal choice. I like to just go and listen to what I can hear.
As with any hobby, it’s about enjoying yourself. You don’t need to try and find rarities or less common species. Just admire the vibrant colours of a mallard’s feathers and the distinctive call of a robin or blackbird.