Birding for Beginners

By Daria Mather on July 29, 2020 in Blog

Photos by Ron Hulse

Birding has seen an uptick in interest in recent months. Google searches for “birds” reached an all-time high in the U.S. this spring, and it’s easy to understand why. Birding is both a solitary and community-based activity which can be enjoyed by people of all ages, abilities and backgrounds, especially now.

“Birding is a great activity during these crazy times for several reasons. First, birds can be found everywhere, from urban settings and backyards to parks and conservation areas, which makes birding a fairly accessible hobby,” said Anna Buckardt Thomas, avian ecologist at the Iowa Department of Natural Resources. “If you take the time to watch and listen, you will find birds everywhere you go! Second, birding is a good activity to get people outside and can be done while keeping physical distance from others.”

Considering joining the flock? Here are some good things to know before you go:

Plan ahead. Know where you’re going, how to be safe and research some of the most common birds in the area. Local birding groups like Iowa Audubon, Iowa Young Birders and the Iowa Ornothologist Union offer maps, bird lists and other resources on their websites.

Dress for success. When birding, it’s better to wear clothes that blend in with the landscape so as to not scare the birds off. That said, make sure you incorporate a bit of bright color, preferably orange, during hunting season if you’re birding on public land that allows hunting.

Bring binoculars. Borrow or consider purchasing a pair of binoculars. They can be expensive, but if you plan on getting into birding, they are a worthwhile investment.

Don’t forget your field guide. Identifying birds can be a bit overwhelming at first. A good field guide is indispensible. There are many different field guides to choose from, and the Iowa Ornothologist Union offers some nice recommendations on their website. There are also some good free apps, but depending on where you’re birding, service may be spotty.

Pack a notebook. A weather-proof notebook is useful if you plan on chronicling each bird you see, when and where.

The Code of Birding Ethics created by the American Birding Association has only three rules: Respect and promote birds and their environment; Respect and promote the birding community and its individual members; and Respect and promote the law and the rights of others.


Learn more about birding in Iowa and meet other aspiring and advanced birders through these Iowa-based groups.

  • Iowa Audubon
  • Iowa Young Birders
  • Iowa Ornithologist Union
Places to go:
  1. Lacey- Keosauqua State Park
    Birds to look for: Yellow-billed cuckoo, Pileated woodpecker, Indigo bunting
  2. Yellow River State Park
    Birds to look for: Ruffed grouse, Red-shouldered hawk, Yellow-bellied sapsucker
  3. DeSoto National Wildlife Refuge
    Birds to look for: Wood duck, Red-headed woodpecker, Baltimore oriole
  4. Waubonsie State Park
    Birds to look for: Barred owl, Eastern whip-poor-will, Blue-gray gnatcatcher
  5. Walnut Woods/ Brown’s Woods/ Des Moines Water Works
    Birds to look for: Brown creeper, Cooper’s hawk, Wood thrush

Source: Iowa Audobon