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A Guide to Bird-Watching With Binoculars

A Guide to Bird-Watching With Binoculars

Birding or bird-watching is the 15th most popular outdoor recreational activity in the United States. Anyone who is serious about bird-watching needs to have a pair of binoculars. Binoculars are not only helpful for locating and identifying birds, but they are easy to use and portable as well. Learn what to look for before you purchase binoculars or upgrade from a pair you already own.

Advantages of Binoculars

It's possible to locate and observe birds in the wild with a scope or camera with a telephoto lens. However, binoculars have important advantages over these other tools. Most serious birders agree that a pair of good binoculars is a requirement for observing birds in the wild.

  • Binoculars tend to be lighter than scopes and cameras, making them more portable and easier to carry.
  • You'll also have a more natural three-dimensional view of the birds because of the dual optical tubes that require viewing with both eyes. Both scopes and cameras involve one eye only.
  • When trying to view birds with a scope or camera, it's often necessary to set up a tripod for the steadiest view. Tripods are not necessary when using binoculars.

Binocular Options

Binoculars come in a variety of sizes, shapes, and colors and can have many different features and options.

  • Magnification provides viewing power. You'll see this indicated with two numbers separated by an "x." The first number is the magnification, and the second number is the diameter of the objective lens.
  • Higher magnification often results in image shaking and a narrower field of view. Many birders prefer a magnification between 7x and 10x, and 8x is considered an all-purpose magnification that's suitable for most birders.
  • Objective diameter affects the quality of the images viewed. A larger objective lens is heavier and will create a heavier pair of binoculars, but a larger objective diameter will allow more light in, giving you a brighter, clearer view. An objective diameter between 40 mm and 44 mm is a moderate range with both low-light capabilities and portability.

Binocular Configurations

Binoculars have one of two configurations: Porro prism and roof prism. Each configuration has advantages and disadvantages. Beginning birders often choose Porro prism binoculars because they are less expensive.

  • Binoculars with Porro prisms have the traditional binocular shape, and it's possible to get a pair of binoculars with more features when choosing this configuration.
  • Binoculars with roof prisms are more compact and have a straighter design. Many birders prefer roof prism binoculars because they're easier to carry.

Additional Features

Choosing birding binoculars often comes down to how you will use them. Birders with specific viewing goals will want to explore features carefully.

  • Waterproof binoculars are a must for anyone using them outdoors when rain or fog might occur.
  • Some binoculars are fog-proof, which prevents them from fogging up.
  • A smaller minimum focusing distance will give you better views of birds that are relatively close to you. This is useful for birders seeking to positively identify bird species.
  • Premium optical quality makes it possible to see minute details such as coloration patterns and wing plumage.

Try Before Buying

After navigating all of the binocular options, it's smart to try out binoculars before buying a pair. If you can, borrow binoculars from a few bird-watching friends and see how they work for you. Binoculars need to be comfortable if you plan to carry them around your neck, fit in your hands well, and have all of the features you desire.

  • Some birders prefer to carry binoculars with holsters or chest straps.
  • Check with other birders to get binocular recommendations.

Learn More About Bird-Watching