Bird Watching For Dummies

Bird Watching For Dummies

by Bill Thompson III


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Millions of people worldwide enjoy bird watching; it offers them a chance to get back to nature and enjoy the beauty of the outdoors. Bird Watching For Dummies covers all the basics of bird watching, leading you on a guided tour of the gorgeous world of birds. From identifying birds by sight and sound to making your own “life list,” you’ll find all the tips and advice you need right here.

Whether you’ve been bird watching for years or you’re just starting out, Bird Watching For Dummies has all your bases covered. It’s full of practical tips and proven advice to make your bird watching experiences as fun and rewarding as possible. It’s your first aid kit for finding, identifying, feeding, and even housing birds. Plus, there’s more:

  • Designing a bird-friendly backyard
  • Purchasing bird feeders, birdhouses, binoculars, clothing, and more
  • Keeping notes and records of the birds you spot
  • Joining bird clubs, taking field trips, and attending bird festivals
  • Booking bird watching tours that fit your budget and expertise
  • Choosing and using field guides

You won’t find a more straightforward and reliable bird watching guide than this one. Written by Bill Thompson III, and the staff of Bird Watcher’s Digest, it covers everything from backyard bird watching to field trips across the globe. No matter what your level of experience, this guide offers everything you need for unforgettable bird watching:

  • Tackling pests and other feeder problems
  • Bird-friendly gardening tips
  • Optics and how to use them
  • Birding by habitat and hotspots
  • Songs, calls, and non-vocal identifying sounds
  • Attracting and spotting hummingbirds
  • Understanding the terminology
  • Dressing for success

If you need help getting started in your new hobby, or you’re an old hand who just wants a quick-and-easy reference, Bird Watching For Dummies is the fun and simple way to stay up on all the latest in the world of bird watching. With unbeatable advice and practical guidance from the experts at Bird Watcher’s Digest, this handy resource is the only bird watching guide you need.

NOTE: Birdwatching For Dummies no longer contains a 32 page color insert.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780764550409
Publisher: Wiley
Publication date: 10/06/1997
Series: For Dummies Series
Pages: 432
Product dimensions: 7.40(w) x 9.26(h) x 0.95(d)

About the Author

Bill Thompson, III is the editor of Bird Watcher's Digest and the author of An Identification Guide to Common Backyard Birds. He has edited more than a dozen other bird watching booklets and has a bird watching life list of more than 1,000 bird species worldwide.

Bird Watcher's Digest is the oldest and most popular bi-monthly magazine devoted to birds and bird watching enthusiasts around the world.

Read an Excerpt

Chapter 12

Optics and How to Use Them

In This Chapter

  • Optics defined
  • What they do
  • Starting out
  • Choosing binocs
  • Using binocs
  • Avoiding a pain in the neck
  • Trouble in paradise
  • Cleaning and caring

The binocular is the tool of the bird watching trade. You can watch birds without the magnifying power of binoculars, but you won't always get a satisfactory look at the birds.

A myth about binoculars is that they're expensive. They can be, but they don't have to be. Recent advances in lens technology and the manufacturing process have resulted in very affordable binoculars for bird watchers.

In this chapter, I discuss what binoculars are, how they work, and how to choose them and use them most effectively for watching birds. Plus, I offer some tips on cleaning and loving your binoculars, because if you have decent binoculars, you will learn to love them, especially if they show you lots of neat birds.

Optics Defined: What You See Is What You Get

When birders talk about their optics, they're referring to their binoculars or spotting scope. Because the vast majority of the bird watching public has binoculars (a.k.a. binocs, or bins), this is usually what is meant by the term optics.

Spotting scopes -- higher-powered, single-tube (telescope) viewing devices -- are used primarily for viewing distant birds, such as waterfowl or shorebirds. These high powered scopes are becoming more popular as the number of avid bird watchers grows. But almost no one starts out with just a spotting scope -- while everyone starts out with binocs of some sort. For more on spotting scopes, see Chapter 22.

Binoculars are composed of two optical tubes, joined side by side, much like two miniature telescopes. Inside each tube is a series of lenses and prisms that reflect, magnify, and transmit light (see Figure 12-1). When binoculars are held up to your eyes and pointed at a distant object, a magnified image of that object is transmitted to your eyes -- it looks bigger and closer than if you had no binoculars.

Types of binoculars

Two basic types of binoculars are used by modern bird watchers: Porro prisms and roof prisms. You can tell them apart by how they're constructed.

Porro-prism binocs

Porro-prism binoculars were first designed in the mid-1800s by some Italian fellow named Porro. His concept of placing two right-angled prisms in each barrel of a set of binoculars is still used today. Porro-prism binocs are the stereotypical angled-body binocular design. When standing on their barrels, or hanging from a strap around someone's neck, Porro-prism binoculars appear to form an M shape (see Figure 12-2).

Porros focus by relying upon an external focus wheel which, when turned, causes the eyepieces for each side to slide forward or backward along an external tube. This type of focusing allows for sharp images of close birds and other objects, as well as precise focusing on objects as close as six to ten feet.

The advantages of this binocular design are

  • Brighter images due to greater transmission of light
  • Fast focusing
  • Close focusing
  • Wider field of view (the amount of area you see when looking through the binoculars)

For low-to-mid-range priced binoculars, Porro-prisms offer the best value.

The disadvantages are weight (the better transmission of light is due to large prisms, which are weighty) and bulkiness, which can make Porros hard to use for small-handed folks. In addition, the external focusing mechanisms of many Porros can make for less-durable binoculars, that is, ones that can be more easily jarred out of alignment.

Roof-prism binoculars

Roof-prism binoculars were first developed by a German binocular manufacturer in the mid-1800s. This design features two straight barrels, giving it an H-shaped appearance.

The design reflects light through a series of five small prisms in each barrel. Roof-prism binocs have grown in popularity among birders in the last few decades, primarily because many leading optics manufacturers are producing excellent optics in this format for the bird watching market. Because of the way roof-prisms are designed, most of the focusing hardware is enclosed inside the body of the binoculars. This hardware is adjusted with an external focusing knob or wheel.

The advantages to roof-prism binoculars are

  • Ease of handling
  • Fewer external moving parts (which means increased durability)
  • A better ratio of power-to-weight; that is, in general, a 10x roof-prism weighs less than a 10x Porro

At the mid-to-high price range for binoculars, roof-prisms dominate the market.

The disadvantages are that roof-prisms tend to be more expensive than Porros, and they often don't focus as closely, making it hard to see nearby objects clearly. Because of the additional prisms required to reflect incoming light, roof prisms often do not offer as "bright" an image as Porros.

Choosing Binoculars

You need to consider a number of factors when choosing binoculars, but the most important three are cost, power (or magnification), and comfort. When selecting binoculars for yourself, bear these three factors in mind. Neglect any one of them, and you'll almost certainly regret your decision later.

For example, if you decide to buy an inexpensive pair of binoculars even though you like a more pricey pair better, you may find at a later date that you wished you'd made the additional investment. Or if you purchase a large pair of bins that seem heavy when hanging around your neck in the store, imagine your agony months later when you're out on a long bird walk? Talk about a pain in the neck.

Before you buy, I suggest you gather all the information you can about binoculars. The best sources for information and advice on bird-watching optics are your fellow bird watchers.

Ask your friends and fellow birders about their binocs. What brand and power do they have? What do they like about them? What do they dislike? How much did they pay? Where did they buy them? Would they do anything differently the next time they buy binoculars? If you can get answers to these questions, you'll begin to get a picture of what you would prefer in a binocular.

Binocular terms

These terms are helpful to know if you wish to be fluent in binocular-speak.

  • Armoring: An outer coating, often rubber or synthetic, that makes binoculars more water-resistant (or even waterproof), more durable, and easier to hold.

  • Close focus: How closely a pair of binoculars can focus (between 8 and 12 feet is ideal). Many high-power binoculars can't focus on objects that are nearer than 20 feet. This limitation is a disadvantage for birders wishing to look at nearby birds or butterflies. To determine the close focus of a binocular, try to focus on your feet, or another nearby object. The distance to the closest object upon which you can focus clearly is the close focus value of your binocular.

  • Eye relief: The distance from your eyes to the outer surfaces of the eyepiece lenses. You don't want your eyes or eyelashes to touch the lenses, but if the eye-relief distance is too great, you lose field of view. Imagine peeking through a hole in a fence: the closer your eye gets to the hole, the more area you can see through the hole.

  • Eyepiece: The lens nearest your eyes (the end of the binoculars that you look into).

  • Field of view: The amount of area that can be seen when looking through a pair of binoculars. A larger field of view makes finding a distant bird through your binoculars easier. Higher powered binocs (10x and up) often have a reduced field of view.

  • Lens coatings: Treatments applied to binocular lenses to increase image clarity, brightness, and color quality. Coated lenses are one of the things that make expensive binoculars expensive, but also better.

  • Objective lens: The lens nearest the object at which you're looking. The diameter of the objective lens, measured in millimeters, is the second number in the two numbers used to describe optics (see "7x35" below).

  • Power: The amount of magnification provided by the binoculars. Usually listed as 7x, 8x, or 10x.

  • 7x35, 8x42, 10x40: Pronounced "7 by 35," and so on. The common model designation for binoculars. The first number is the power or magnification (a 7x or 7-power binocular magnifies a distant bird 7 times, making it appear 7 times closer). The second number indicates the size of the objective lens (the larger end, not the one you look through). The larger this number, the larger the objective lens (and wider the field of view), and thus the more light enters your binoculars. More light means a clearer, brighter image.

After you get answers to these questions (and if you feel you can pester them a bit more without endangering your friendship), ask to try their binoculars for a few minutes. Try to avoid asking for the binocs just as a peregrine falcon flies overhead -- your friend may get cranky. While trying your friend's bins, it's time to ask yourself a few questions: How do they feel in your hands? Are they easy to focus? Are they too heavy for you to hold steady?


It may seem hard to believe, but binoculars are one of those few items for which a higher price actually means higher quality. Another way to say this is: You get what you pay for. So the guiding rule for binocular-buying birders has been: "Buy the best optics you can afford."

But what's the price range for good binoculars? I'm glad you asked that question. But the answer depends on you and how you use the binoculars.

The low end of the price range for a new pair of adequate birding binoculars is $100. You can get some compact (small and lightweight) binocs for slightly less than that, but not all of these are ideal for in-the-field bird watching. The high end of the price range for binoculars is in the thousands of dollars! But you need not spend this much to get good optics.

Why not shoot for the mid-range of $150 to $350? In this price range, you can get a pair of binoculars that will be well-suited to you and your mode of watching birds. Dozens and dozens of binocular brands and models are available to choose from in this mid-price-range. If you choose to get mid-priced binoculars, you can always invest in a better (more expensive) pair at a later date.

"But," you ask, "isn't a $100 pair of 7x35s the same as a pair of $350 7x35s?" "Probably not," is my answer. A lot of competition exists among binocular manufacturers, and the not-worth-the-money brands and models are quickly taken off the market or greatly reduced in price. Perhaps the more expensive 7x35s have coated lenses, thick rubber armoring, and come with a manufacturer's warranty of several years.

Here's an interesting thought: A new pair of fairly expensive binoculars, costing, say, $750 would, over the course of a year, average out to only about $2.05 per day. Over five years, the figure becomes $0.41 per day. Not much to pay, for what you get in return.

Don't, under any circumstances, buy any binoculars that are marketed without a recognizable brand name or that are marketed at unbelievably low prices. These optics stink! Believe me, you'll be sorry. One warning sign of El Cheapo binoculars is a prismlike halo of colors around any object you view. This effect is caused by inferior optics inside the binoculars.


The best binoculars for bird watching come in the 7x to 10x range (that's 7-power to 10-power). Binocs in this range provide enough magnification to make distant birds look bigger, without being too heavy to hold steady or to have hanging around your neck. Three of the most common powers are 7x35, 8x42, and 10x40.

Power is as much a matter of personal preference as anything. You may like the high magnification of 10x binoculars, but their increased weight may make your arms tired after holding them to your eyes for only a few minutes. Try several different binocs, either at a camera/optics store or at a gathering of bird watchers. You'll notice a difference in weight between binocs of different powers. Any binoculars above 10-power are likely to be too heavy to hold still, but can be used successfully when mounted on a tripod.

Recent advances in binocular design have helped make binoculars lighter and better balanced in the hand. For many bird watchers, a new well-designed 10x binocular is now as easy to hold steady as an older pair of 7x's. The mantra is "Try before you buy!"

The first number in a binocular description (7x35) refers to the power or magnification of the binocular. The higher the number, the more powerful the binoculars (which means a 10x binoc makes a distant bird appear much closer than a 7x one does). The second number in the description refers to the size (in millimeters) of the objective lens. The larger this number is, the more light is allowed into the optics. Lots of light means a bright, clear image is presented to your eyes.

Using the logic that more is better, wouldn't a 12x50 binocular be great? Lots of magnification and lots of light? The answer is an emphatic no! Such powerful binocs require large lenses and internal prisms, which makes them almost impossibly heavy to use without mounting them on a tripod.

Never look directly at the sun through binoculars. Magnified sunlight can seriously damage your eyes. When bird watching, always be aware of the sun's position so you don't inadvertently point at or swing your binocs past the sun. Ouch!


"The best binoculars" an optics expert once wrote, "will disappear from your awareness while you are using them."

When you try binoculars, ask yourself if they feel comfortable to use. Comfort is a combination of factors: Are they easy to raise to your eyes? Does your forefinger automatically rest on the focus wheel? Can you easily adjust the settings to fit your needs? Do the binocs feel very heavy around your neck? Do they feel good in your hands?

You can have the best optics money can buy, but if you're not comfortable using them, they may as well be a lead doorstop. Here's an analogy for you: I'd love to own a racy sports car. There's one problem though (besides lack of money): I am six feet four, and there's no way I can fit into a sports car. Sexy and stylish though it may be, I am miserably uncomfortable in a tiny car.

If you have trouble holding a pair of binoculars steady (if the image is constantly moving and jiggling), the binocs may be too heavy for you to use. Try using a friend's lighter or smaller binoculars and see if you have a more stable image.

Other considerations

If I haven't confused you yet about how to choose binoculars, here are some other things to think about.

Field of view

Make sure the binoculars you choose have a reasonable field of view (the amount of area you can see at one time when looking through the binocs). Binoculars with narrow fields of view make it hard to find the bird when you raise the optics to your eyes.

Close focus

An ideal pair of binoculars focuses on objects as close as 12 feet away. Some compact models focus on closer objects, but you may sacrifice power and field of view. High-powered binocs, such as my own 10x40 wonders, may only focus to about 20 feet. This limited focus is a drag when a warbler perches 10 feet away and I have to naked-eye it while my wife oohs and ahhs at the close look she can get through her 8-powers. For butterfly watching (a natural spin-off of birding), close-focusing is a must. Nothing is worse than having to back-up to get a good look at a resting butterfly!


The level of image brightness produced by your binoculars is a factor of how large the objective lenses are (x35, x40, x42, and so on) and the quality and coatings of the optical elements (lenses and prisms). Larger objective lenses produce brighter images.

Lens coatings

Coated lenses and high-quality prisms reduce the amount of light lost and thus transmit more light, which makes a brighter image. Test several models with coated and uncoated optics and you can see the difference. But remember, the better the coatings, the more expensive the binoculars are likely to be.


If my binoculars weren't armored, I'd have smashed and dented them at least 400 times since I got them ten years ago. Armoring is a rubberized coating that encases the binoculars (but not the lenses), providing protection from bumps and knocks, as well as providing some protection from moisture. Most binocs are not waterproof, but they are water resistant. So if you drop them in the pool, call your insurance agent. Armoring is a very good thing, and I recommend that you buy rubber-armored binoculars.

Avoid zoom binoculars, which may have inferior optics to regular non-zoom models. Avoid fixed-focus field glasses, which are simply impractical for watching birds. Avoid binoculars that lack a center focus wheel -- meaning they can only be focused by turning the two individual eyepieces. These binocs are too hard to use in the field, if you only have two hands.

Using Binoculars

For several years after I started watching birds, I didn't know how to focus my binoculars properly. I'm going to save you from a fate such as mine (and save you from some painful headaches). When a friend finally showed me how to really focus binoculars, I couldn't believe how 3-D the birds looked all of a sudden! And I had no moment of dizziness after lowering my binocs. My next move was to beg my parents for new and better binoculars.

Using binocs isn't as simple as raising them up to your eyes. But the process is pretty simple nonetheless. Because not all eyes are created equal, binoculars are designed to be adjusted to accommodate your needs.

Setting the eyespace

All good binoculars are made in a way that allows the two optical barrels to pivot so that the space between them can be adjusted. When using binoculars, it's key that you get the two halves of the binocs the right distance apart to get the maximum image size. This spacing should match the amount of space between your eyes.

That statement may seem overly obvious to you, but you'd be surprised how many bird watchers use binocs for years without getting the eyespace aligned properly for their eyes. (If you've ever appeared in a Picasso painting and both of your eyes are on the same side of your nose, please ignore this section.)

To set the eyespace of your binoculars correctly, push the two barrels together so that they're adjusted to their minimum spacing. Raise the optics to your eyes and slowly expand the space between the barrels until you have the maximum amount of view or image space. If the barrels are too close together, the image area you see is circular, and you may be able to see your hands or lots of black space out of the corners of your eyes. If the barrels are too far apart, you see two separate image circles with a black area in between.

If you've got the proper eyespace for your eyes, your image area appears oval-shaped and you notice the large, clear image space.

If you wear glasses, beware of older model binoculars that have metal or hard plastic eyecups. These eyecups not only scratch your glasses, they also greatly reduce your field of view because your eye is farther away from the eyepiece than is ideal. Think of it this way: Isn't it easier to see more through a keyhole if your eye is right up next to the hole?

Using the diopter: The eye equalizer

Almost everyone has one eye that is stronger than the other. This means that when the eyes focus on a distant object, the images transmitted to your brain from each eye are different. To test this, stick out your thumb as though you are about to be fingerprinted. Raise your arm and cover up a distant object, such as the light switch across the room, with your thumb -- that is, block it from view. Now close your eyes alternately. See how the image jumps around? In addition, many people suffer from near-sightedness or far-sightedness. If your eyes aren't a perfectly matched 20-20, you may have a difficult time using binoculars because you can't focus clearly.

The word diopter is used by optometrists to measure the amount of correction needed for eyeglass prescriptions. The diopter (sometimes spelled dioptre) adjustment on binoculars compensates for these differences between eyes, as well as for any near-sightedness or far-sightedness. Adjusted properly, the diopter helps you to focus clearly on your target image.

You can use two basic configurations for adjusting a diopter. One is controlling the diopter adjustment with a second focus wheel, mounted in front of the primary focus wheel. Many roof-prism binoculars use this method. The other configuration has the diopter adjustment in the right eyepiece (refer to Figure 12-1) of the binoculars. In either case, the diopter scale appears on the focus mechanism. Once set, these markings, with 0 as a center point, allow you to remember the best setting for your eyes.

Using a diopter is an intrinsic part of focusing your binoculars.


To focus your binoculars properly, follow these easy steps:

  1. Turn your main focus knob all the way to the right.

    Locate your diopter focusing piece (either another focus knob or a movable eyepiece (usually the right eyepiece).

  2. Choose a distant stationary object on which to focus.

  3. Close your left eye (or cover the left objective lens with your hand) and quickly turn the diopter focus piece so that the image is clear and in sharp focus for your right eye. Lower the binoculars and rest your eyes for a moment.

  4. Looking through the binoculars once more, open your left eye (or uncover the left lens) and, using the center focus wheel, adjust the focus until a clear image appears.

    You may need to adjust both wheels slightly to achieve the sharpest degree of focus.

  5. Once you've achieved maximum focus, look at the settings for your diopter adjustment (most binocs have symbols or numbers to indicate settings).

    Remember where your optimal setting is, so you can automatically readjust your binoculars to that point should the setting be changed by another user.

Once you get your binocs focused and the diopter adjusted for your own eyes, the only focusing you have to do is with the center focus wheel. For most birds that appear in the middle distance, say 30 to 60 feet away, you don't need to refocus at all. Closer or more distant birds require some focus adjustment with the center wheel, however.

Properly focused, your binoculars give you a crystal-clear image. When I first discovered this, I thought that sharply focused binocs made birds appear almost three-dimensional. At any rate, the birds seemed clear and sharply defined to my eyes for the first time.

You can get fast at focusing by practicing on stationary objects. To set my binocs, I always pick an object with lots of contrast, such as a dark tree branch against a light sky or a black-and-white highway sign or billboard. Before long, focusing becomes second nature to you.

Trouble in Paradise: Balky Bins

If you're new to this binocular-toting hobby called bird watching, you may be having some less-than-heavenly experiences using your optics. This is normal, even for veteran bird watchers! The happy news is that all these problems are easy to remedy.

Focus problems

If you can't seem to get your birds in focus, even after following the steps in the section on "Focusing" in this chapter, here are two suggestions:

  • Clean your binoculars thoroughly and try again.
  • Take or send your binoculars to a trained optics repair professional and ask that the alignment be checked.

Binoculars go out of alignment from a hard bump or knock, just like the tires on your car. Out-of-alignment binocs are impossible to focus precisely, so your eyes try to adjust to make up for the lack of focus. The result is headache, dizziness, and frustration for you.

To find a person trained to fix optics, call your binoculars' manufacturer, ask the company that sold you the optics, or inquire at your local camera store. The Appendix has a list of major optics manufacturers.

Dizzy eyes

If your binoculars are not truly in focus, or if they're out of alignment, you may experience a moment of dizziness after you lower the binocs from your eyes. Believe me, it's better to solve this problem than to continue to use the binocs as they are. If you can't eliminate the problem by refocusing or by using your diopter adjustment, take your binoculars to someone who can adjust the alignment. If you don't have an optics specialty store in your area, call the manufacturer of your binoculars and inquire about certified repair shops.

Here's a quick way to check the alignment of your binoculars. Look at a horizontal line, such as a telephone wire. Slowly move the binoculars away from your eyes and watch to see if the lines in the two eyepieces stay lined up. If one appears higher than the other, get thee to an optics repair shop -- your bins are out of whack.


If you wear eyeglasses, you have to suffer through some reduction of image space or field of view because your glasses prevent your eyes from getting as close as possible to the eyepieces of the binoculars. Today, most quality binoculars feature rubber eyecups that improve comfort for users, whether bespectacled or not. For the glasses-wearer, these rubber eyecups can be rolled down, allowing you to place the binoculars up against your glasses. This permits your eyes to be as close as possible to the outer lens of the eyepiece, which gives you an enlarged field of view. It also prevents the binoculars from scratching your glasses. Avoid older (and cheapo) binoculars that have hard plastic or metal eyecups.

With a little practice, you can raise your binocs to your glasses without jamming your glasses into your nose. Always make sure the eyecups are squared-up with your glasses, so that you're not cheating yourself out of the largest possible field of view. You may find that it helps to have a second pair of glasses, specifically for bird watching. Find a pair that allows you to get as close as possible to your binoculars' eyepieces. If your regular glasses are bifocals, ask your optician to move the bifocal line as low as possible on your glasses' lenses. This step makes using your binocs easier.

If you don't wear glasses, extend the eyecups to help block out side light from entering your view.

Warbler neck

Warbler neck can happen with or without binoculars. It's caused by looking up for long periods, perhaps at some treetop warblers or soaring hawks. To avoid it, stretch out on the ground. This way you can scan the skies while your aching neck gets a rest.

Can't find the bird

You set your sights on the bird and you can't find it. This is by far the most commonly made rookie mistake. You see a bird. You lift your binoculars to your eyes. You start moving your head around crazily looking for the bird. Relax, will ya?

Here's a trick. See a bird. Note where the bird is in relation to a nearby (to the bird) landmark, such as a red leaf, a crooked branch, a clod of dirt, or whatever. LOCK YOUR EYES ON THE BIRD AND DON'T MOVE THEM! Bring your binocs up to where your eyes are. Line up the binocs on the landmark that you spotted, and the bird should be easy to find. Unless the bird has flown.


There are certain times when you just have to put up with your bins fogging up, such as when you walk into a warm house after being outside in very cold weather. But if your binoculars fog up all the time, try cleaning them, using some anti-fogging lens fluid. This fluid is available at any camera store and at many pharmacies.

If your binocs fog up on the inside, you need to seek professional help (for them). Good binoculars don't fog internally. If they do, some moisture is inside them, which is not good. Get them looked at by the manufacturer or by an authorized repair person.

How to Carry Your Bins

Strap it up, I'll take it! Always, always, always use some kind of strap with your binoculars. If you don't -- mark my words -- you'll be sorry. And even if you do have a strap on your bins, but you tend to get lazy and hand carry them by the strap, beware! You will drop them at some point.

Now that I have all that gloom and doom out of my system, let me mention that you should have a strap for your binoculars and you should wear it around your neck. A strap is not just a convenient, hands-free way of carrying your optics, it's also a kind of safety belt for them.

My favorite kind of strap is the stretchy kind made from wide neoprene. This strap spreads out the weight of my heavy binocs and never gives me a sore neck from too much friction. An added bonus is that it comes in flashy colors.

A good neckstrap is soft, hooks securely to your binoculars, adjusts to fit your length preference, and feels comfortable holding your binoculars around your neck.

A word about the thin, shiny plastic straps that sometimes come with binoculars: they stink! Not all included straps are worthless, but most are. If you buy an expensive pair of binoculars, you usually do get a decent strap with them. Excellent straps are available, by mail order or in any store that sells cameras, that fit any model of binocs. Invest in a strap that is comfortable for you.

A variation on the around-the-neck theme is the binocular harness. These units really spread out the weight of your optics by means of criss-crossing shoulder straps. Though they take some getting used to, I know several harness users that claim to have been free of neck and back problems since adopting one of these alternative straps.

When watching birds from a car that has automatic shoulder seatbelts -- the kind that slide automatically into place whenever the car is started or the door is shut -- be careful of where your binoculars are. If you're behind the seatbelt strap, but your binoculars and strap are in front, watch out when the strangulation device -- I mean the seatbelt -- begins its unmerciful trip to its destination. You can find your neck in the most uncomfortable viselike grip of an object intended to save your life. When I'm in a rental car with this feature, I either unlatch the shoulder belt (if I'm birding in a no-traffic area) or take my bins strap from around my neck.

If your binoculars bounce around and pound against your chest or stomach when you walk, here are three solutions:

  • Change the way you walk, or quit birding from a pogo stick. If this isn't practical . . .
  • Shorten your binocular strap; most straps have a slip-through buckle for making this adjustment on either end, near where they connect to the binoculars. Or . . .
  • Purchase one of the harness-type straps that holds your optics snugly against your body. The added benefit is that a good harness distributes the weight evenly across your back and shoulders.

Cleaning and Caring

Clean binoculars are happy binoculars. If your binocs are like mine, you can practically recall every meal you've ever eaten over them. The hard-to-reach areas around the lenses hold a veritable food-museum's worth of crumbs and UFO's (unidentifiable foodlike objects). There's no time like the present to clean up your act.

Spotting Scopes

For 85 percent of the bird watching you do, your binoculars likely give you adequate performance in magnification and image clarity. However, for some birding situations where the birds are quite distant, you can enjoy better looks at birds by using a spotting scope. A spotting scope is one optical tube (binoculars have two) that generally offers greater magnification (above 20 power) than binoculars (usually between 7 and 10 power). For more on choosing and using scopes, see Chapter 22, "Better Optics and Other Fun Gear."

Here's how:

  1. Get lens-cleaning fluid and lens paper from a drugstore or camera store.

  2. Blow forcefully on each lens to loosen bits of dirt, bread crumbs, or hardened mayonnaise.

  3. Using a crumpled lens tissue, brush lightly across each lens.

  4. Wet a clean lens tissue with lens cleaning fluid and lightly wipe each lens in a circular motion.

  5. Use a clean and dry lens tissue to wipe excess moisture from the lenses.

For especially mayo-covered lenses, two rounds of cleaning may be in order.

To clean the body of your binoculars, which may be coated in french-fry grease, dampen a cloth with water and wipe. Be careful not to get your binocs too wet, and be sure to dry them promptly.

Don't wipe your binocular lenses with your shirt tail. Take the time to clean them properly and they'll pay you back with great vision for years to come. Take the sloppy way out and wipe them with your sleeve and you'll put thousands of tiny, light-bending scratches on the lenses. This type of behavior puts you on the road to binocular ruin. Breathing on the lenses and then rubbing them with your shirt tail or a facial tissue is also not good. Only resort to such "seat of the pants" cleaning methods in an emergency.

Table of Contents



About This Book.

Why You Need This Book.

How to Use This Book.

How This Book Is Organized.

Part I: Watching Birds: A Natural Habit.

Part II: Backyard Bird Watching.

Part III: Bird Sighting 101: Using Your Tools.

Part IV: Beyond the Backyard.

Part V: Once You're Hooked.

Part VI: The Part of Tens.


Icons Used in This Book.

Part I: Watching Birds: A Natural Habit.

Chapter 1: Birds and the People Who Love Them.

Chapter 2: Tools that Take You Up Close and Personal.

Chapter 3: Identifying Birds ("If It Walks Like a Duck . . .").

Chapter 4: Watching Bird Behavior.

Chapter 5: Bird Sounds: News and Entertainment.

Part II: Backyard Bird Watching.

Chapter 6: Making a Bird-Friendly Yard.

Chapter 7: Bird Feeding: The Start of It All.

Chapter 8: Tackling Pests and Other Feeder Problems.

Chapter 9: Nest Boxes and Box Monitoring.

Chapter 10: Gardening for the Birds.

Chapter 11: Hummers, Bluebirds, Martins, and Hawks.

Part III: Bird Sighting 101: Using Your Tools.

Chapter 12: Optics and How to Use Them.

Chapter 13: Choosing and Using Field Guides.

Chapter 14: Expanding Your Skills.

Chapter 15: Writing It Down.

Part IV: Beyond the Backyard.

Chapter 16: Taking a Field Trip.

Chapter 17: Birding by Habitat.

Chapter 18: Birding Hotspots.

Chapter 19: Birding Tours: On Site with a Pro.

Chapter 20: Festivals and Other Events.

Part V: Once You're Hooked.

Chapter 21: Birding that Makes a Difference.

Chapter 22: Better Optics and Other Fun Gear.

Chapter 23: Advanced Bird ID.

Chapter 24: Field Sketching.

Chapter 25: Birding Online (Nesting on the World Wide Web).

Chapter 26: Other Flying Creatures.

Part VI: The Part Of Tens.

Chapter 27: Ten (+ Ten) Tips for When (And When Not) to Use Your Binoculars.

Chapter 28: Bill's Ten Favorite Hotspots.

Chapter 29: Ten Bird Myths.



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