Birdwatching Basics

Participate in Travis Audubon 

There is no better way to jump into birdwatching than to take a class or go on a field trip with Travis Audubon. If you decide to bird on your own, pick a good birding spot– learn more about Travis County birding hotspots here.

Recommended Field Guides 

Kenn Kaufman’s Field Guide to Birds of North America, 2005
National Geographic’s Birds of North America, Sixth Edition
David Sibley’s The Sibley Guide to Birds

Use your smart phone as a field guide: Best Birding Apps 2019 | Birdwatching Buzz

Binoculars Help You See The Birds Better  

7x 35, 7 x 42, 8 x 40 are all good choices. Try them out at REI, Wild Birds Unlimited, Cabela’s or at a birding festival. Evaluate for ease of use and how heavy they feel. Check websites for binocular reviews: Land Sea & Sky Co., Cornell Lab of Ornithology & Birdwatcher’s Digest

To Identify Birds Pay Attention To:

• Size – bigger than a … smaller than a …
• Bill shape, length and color
• Head – large, small, crested, eye ring, eye line
• Throat and breast
• Wings – wing bars
• Tail
• Back, rump and undertail
• Behavior
• Habitat
• And range maps!

Learn Bird Songs  

There are many apps and CDs available. Here are a few suggestions.
Bird Tunes app for smart phone
iBird Pro Guide to Birds – A field guide at your smart phone fingertips! 
Know Your Bird Sounds, Volume 1: Songs and Calls of Yard, Garden and City Birds by Lang Elliott
Know Your Bird Sounds, Volume 2: Songs and Calls of Birds of the Countryside by Lang Elliott
• Birding by Ear CDs by Dick Walton and Robert Lawson
• Signal Smoke Series: Listening to Birds by John Cline Part 1, Part 2, Part 3 & Part 4

Attract Birds To Your Backyard

Provide food, clean shallow water, shelter and places to raise young.
• Use the Grow Green Guide, Native and Adapted Landscape Plants, and select native Texas plants, which support the insects many birds depend on.
Travis Audubon Society – Bird plant recommendations and hummingbird specific plant list.
Wildlife Austin – Support Austin’s efforts to connect people with nature by gardening for wildlife Certify your yard and educate others.

Bird Identification

Merlin — download the free app to your Ipad or Iphone and it will help identify birds based on their color, size and your location.
Audubon Birds Pro
The Sibley eGuide to Birds 
Birdsnap – Free app that uses visual recognition technology from photos you upload to make bird ID suggestions


The Cornell Lab of Ornithology has many resources, and all are excellent. They include
All About Birds
eBird — The go-to website to get info on hotspots, what is being seen, bird occurrence and to keep track of your sightings. Contribute to citizen science.
Nestwatch and Project Feederwatch are other citizen science projects sponsored by Cornell.

Facebook Birds of Texas group — Click on join. You can ask for ID help here.

Travis Audubon Society — Join us for free field trips, classes and meetings.


Bird Watcher’s Digest — Human interest stories, and not too technical with great bird-attracting advice. Excellent for beginners.
Living Bird — Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s amazing magazine. The photography is stellar and the stories are compelling.
Audubon — The monthly magazine of National Audubon gives you the broader context of birds in the USA.
10,000 Birds — A wealth of wonderful poetry all at your fingertips.

Listserv For Learning About Texas Birds — Texbirds

Take your Texas bird watching experience to a whole new level. The free statewide Texbirds listserv has a wealth of information about recent sightings around the state, as well as discussions on difficult identifications, occurrence and distribution of Texas birds.

Other Texas Birding Groups

The Williamson Audubon Group has a Meetup page, frequent local field trips, and quarterly meetings. The Texas Ornithological Society has twice yearly meetings which feature lots of birdwatching in locations around Texas.


Click here to see a list of Austin area parks that are accessible to those with disabilities. List courtesy of Travis Audubon Board Member Virginia Rose. To learn more about Birdability, visit our landing page or Virginia’s blog.

Wonderful Bird Books

  • Kingbird Highway by Kenn Kaufmann – The Jack Kerouac of birders
  • Why Don’t Woodpeckers Get Headaches?: And Other Answers to Bird Questions You Know You Want to Ask by Mike O’Connor – the Dave Barry of the birder’s world
  • How to be a (Bad) Birdwatcher by Simon Barnes – This witty Brit will help you expand your awareness through birding.
  • For the Birds: An Uncommon Guide by Laura Erickson – You will understand a lot more about birds and birding after reading this.
  • The Birder’s Handbook: A Field Guide to the Natural History of North American Birds by Paul Ehrlich – The bible.
  • Music of the Birds: A Celebration of Bird Song by Lang Elliott – Has a wonderful CD

Birdwatching Basics compiled by Jane Tillman 2/15/2015.

You can download the printable Birdwatching Basics guide here.