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How to use your binoculars to find more birds

Blue arrows (above) show how to move your binoculars to find distant birds. Start with a distant treetop (circle) and scan the sky just above the tree line. Then raise your binoculars and look higher while scanning in the other direction. Also, pay special attention to bare snags, field edges, fence posts, and other likely perches. Art by David Allen Sibley.
Blue arrows (above) show how to move your binoculars to find distant birds. Start with a distant treetop (circle) and scan the sky just above the tree line. Then raise your binoculars and look higher while scanning in the other direction. Also, pay special attention to bare snags, field edges, fence posts, and other likely perches. Art by David Allen Sibley.

The essential first step in birding is simply finding birds to watch. Moving to the next step — identification — is possible only after a bird has been located. Experienced birders use both conscious and subconscious habits to maximize their chances of finding birds. Making frequent use of binoculars is one of the habits.

The primary purpose of binoculars is to magnify distant birds, allowing you to see more details, but binoculars can also be helpful for locating birds. Don’t hesitate to use your binoculars even when no birds are visible.

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David Sibley

David Sibley

David Sibley writes the column “ID Toolkit” in every issue of BirdWatching. He published the Sibley Guide to Birds in 2000, the Sibley Guide to Bird Life and Behavior in 2001, and Sibley’s Birding Basics in 2002. He is also the author of the Sibley Guide to Trees (2009), the Sibley Guide to Birds-Second Edition (2014), and guides to birds of eastern and western North America (2016). He is the recipient of the American Birding Association’s Roger Tory Peterson Award for lifetime achievement in promoting the cause of birding and a recognition award from the National Wildlife Refuge System for his support of bird conservation.

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