Leading A Bird Walk Upstream Interpretaion Home
An outline of the presentation Introducing Birds: Tips and Tricks, presented at Wild Things Feb. 2, 2012 at UIC is posted here. Scroll down for the bibliography.
Presented at CW Wild Things, February, 2013

I. So you are about to lead a bird walk

Why are you leading this walk? Every walk should begin with a theme.

Know Your Audience – Know Your Resource – Use Appropriate Technique

Names aren't the message - Enjoyment, understanding, habitat and conservation

What excites YOU? pass it on!

II. Everybody knows some birds.

Learn with and from your participants. but don't let them hijack your theme.

Don't give out check lists at the beginning of the walk – intimidating for beginners

start with what you know and compare

learn what's in your area

sort into categories first

look at the bird, make mental observations first, then look at the book

patience patience patience!

III. Many people will be thrilled with close looks at common birds.

Practice observation skills, note taking, behavior and habitat.

Build a conservation message, but don't overdo it - let people have fun.

IV. Listen! Songs are far more varied and interesting than the standard recordings tell.

V. Demonstrate technique

Quiet, patience, scan, don't search

Careful observation of details, listen and focus. Look at the bird, NOT at the book!

VI. Use props

For children especially, but any audience, use models, diagrams of common behaviors

VII. Use seasons to your advantage.

Start in the winter, feeder watching, start simple

Don't lead your first walk in the peak of fall warbler migration

VIII. When the birds don't cooperate

sparrows, pigeons and starlings exhibit fascinating behavior, conservation message

IX. Focus on getting people to your site, interested and returning.

Its not just about birds, where do birds fit in the larger picture

X. Bad calls happen to good people, don't fake it if you don't know.

don't obsess if you can't figure it out

XI. Ethics - avoid disturbance, including excessive calling, nest interruption, chasing etc.

XII. Get all the information and resources you can, keep learning – have fun and pass it on

Rules for Success

Dress in subdued colors

Listen; speak little and quietly

Walk slowly and quietly

Move slowly into open space

Take your time, wait watch and listen

Go West! - in the early morning head west away from the sun

Use action appropriate to setting

Watch for movement

Use judgment in calling

Stay out of other sight lines

Be specific in helping others locate birds

Practice alone

From Guttman, Burton S. Finding Your Wings: A Workbook for Beginning Bird Watchers

Top 20 Rules of the Bird Identification Game

What to Look For

1. Look at the bird, not at the book

2. Start at the top and work down and back

3. Shape says a lot

4. Size sometimes lies

5. Color can mislead

6. Behavior

What to Learn

7. Learn the anatomy

8. Learn the sounds

9. Know what to expect

What to Have

10. Good optics help

11. Good field guides help, too

What To Do First

12. Use memory devices

13. Bird with others

14. Ask questions and take notes

15. Practice

What To Do Next

16. Take your time

17. Trust your instincts

18. Bad calls happen to good people

19. Know when to let go

What To Do Last, and One Bonus Rule

20. Celebrate your victories

21. See more birds, have more fun!

From: Thompson, Bill, Identify Yourself, the 50 Most Common Birding Identification Challenges


Alderfer, Jonathon and Jon L. Dunn. Birding Essentials, National Geographic, 2007

Discovery Travel Adventures, Bird Watching, Insight Guides, 2000

    Mostly about locations, includes a "preparation" section

Guttman, Burton S. Finding Your Wings: A Workbook for Beginning Bird Watchers (Peterson Field Guide Series)

Peterson, Roger Tory. How to Know the Birds, Signet, 1957

    First published 1949, may have been reissued in the 1980's, still a great introduction

Sibley, David Allen. Sibley's Birding Basics, Knopf, 2002

Song and Behavior:

Elliott, Lang. Stokes Field Guide to Bird Songs (Eastern), Time Warner, 1997

    Trumps all other recordings, in my opinion, THREE CD's with a tremendous variety of songs and calls, not just the "standards"

Elphick, Chris, John B. Dunning Jr. & David Allen Sibley, eds. The Sibley Guide to Bird Life and Behavior, Alfred A. Knopf, 2001

Lawson, Robert W., Richard K. Walton, and Roger Tory Peterson. Birding by Ear: Eastern and Central North America (Audio CD)

    An excellent introduction to learning song, not a complete catalog

Stokes, Donald and Lillian. A Guide to Bird Behavior, 3 volumes, Little Brown, 1979-1989

The best!

Field Guides:

I am partial to the National Geographic (now in Sixth Edition) and its reference companion, N. G. Complete Birds of North America, but use many others. Computer users will appreciate Thayer Birding Software's Birds of North America, which includes the very handy Birder's Handbook, a classic reference by Ehrlich, Dobkin and Wheye.

More Advanced:

Pete Dunne's Essential Field Guide Companion, Houghton Mifflin, 2006

Thompson, Bill. Identify Yourself, the 50 Most Common Birding Identification Challenges, Houghton Mifflin, 2005

    Includes a short useful introductory section as well

Further Reading:

A very tiny sampling of books I've enjoyed.

Hay, John, Ed. The Great House of Birds, Classic Writings About Birds, Sierra Club Books, 1996

Koeppel, Dan. To See Every Bird on Earth: A Father, a Son, and a Lifelong Obsession, Hudson Street Press, 2005

Nelson, Dylan and Kent, Eds. Bird in the Hand, Fiction and Poetry About Birds, North Point Press, 2004

Rosen, Jonathon. The Life of the Skies, Birding at the End of Nature, Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 2008

Stap, Don. Bird Song, A Natural History, Scribner, 2005

Titles multiply rapidly; there are lots of books, apps and other resources I am not familiar with. Find what works for you.