So you’ve recently started bird watching and you want to get closer to birds for better identification and high quality photographs but often times your so called bird watching does exactly the opposite and scares the birds away.
I know from experience that this can be super frustrating! In my first few months of birding I would go to the shoreline of my neighborhood and see new species all the time, and as new birders often do we get excited. So I B-line towards these new birds and they just start booking it to get away from me.
Will birdwatching scare birds away? Good bird watching technique will not scare birds away. You just need to exercise patience, be mindful of your approach, and pay attention to the signals the birds give you. Done effectively you’ll be getting up close and personal with all types of birds.
Bird watching doesn’t have to scare birds but it often does. Keep reading to learn some of our top technique for getting close without startling the subjects.
Don’t Directly Approach Birds
The direct approach has ruined so many potentially amazing moments for me in the field. In my excitement I’ve walked directly towards American Coots, Cormorants, and most recently Buffleheads. The result in each situation was not good each species immediately swam or flew away. My approach was slow and concise, where did I go wrong?
I looked to much like a predator! For birds in the wild they don’t have the luxury of trusting something larger than them approaching because could mean their life. So to avoid waking up their survival instinct we have to take some precautions.
Don’t be creepy and just stare at the birds. Instead get into position by glancing at the bird from time to time, preferably using your peripheral vision. Try to look as small as possible, yep keep everything tucked in. Don’t spread your arms while carrying your tripod or monopod.
Next approach the birds at an angle versus coming directly at them, which they can perceive as predatory behavior. Many birds will relax a little if they think you are going to pass by them instead of come straight to them. Try these tricks and see if they yield some better results.
In general, the more birds around your target bird, the greater the chance that one species or individual will send the whole group flying. Approach isolated birds when you can.
Let Them Approach You
As stated above the angled approach can work in not startling your bird subject, but something that even more effective is letting them approach you. You might be wondering, “Wait now the birds are going to come up to me ?” But hear me out on this one.
We’ve been having so much more success getting closer to our subject by following this ideology. What you want to do is kind of predict where the bird is going (this is easy to do with swimming or wading birds). Once you scope out their intended path, you beat them to the spot.
For example, I recent saw a group of Surf Scoters in the local marina wading towards shore. So what I did was get out in front of their projected direction and position myself for their presence. By the time they swam up I was sitting still not threatening at all and the results were excellent.
Getting into an area before the birds allows you to get closer to them without them flying away (or swimming away). Once you identify your location settle down quietly, let any nearby birds get accustomed to your presence. Eventually you’ll become just a part of the scenery. Some birders like to throw seed, bread, or other types of feed, before doing this check your local laws to make sure this is legal in your location.
Being subtle while birding is one of the most important factors for success. This is because birds will respond the best when we are not drawing attention to ourselves. One way to be subtle is by approaching birds slowly over time and allowing them to become accustomed to our being there. You should also keep movements deliberate and small. This is not a good time to be overly dramatic.
Quick Tip: A technique I’ve been using while watching fishing birds is waiting until they dive and taking quite a few steps forward before they resurface. Just be careful to be stationary when they come back up! I’ve found this little tactic to be super effective in getting me closer to my subjects.
Being quite goes hand in hand with being subtle. Making loud noises is an easy way to clear a whole field of grazing birds. Loudness doesn’t only apply to sound though, one can wear loud colors as well. My wife and I noticed very early on that most experienced birders wear the same things.
Khakis, Patagonia jackets, and fishing hats but what stood out to me is not necessarily the similarity in styles but the neutral, muted colors. Subtle colors will help you to blend in with the surroundings and not scream stranger danger to the birds nearby.
Pay Attention to their Signals
Another thing I learned very quickly is that the birds will let you know what they are thinking, they might not speak English but they do have excellent body language so pay attention to what they’re telling you. If you approach and a bird stops doing what is was doing before you got there, becomes more erect, notices you and starts squawking don’t go any further!
On the other hand if you’re following the above recommendations and the bird is unbothered you’re safe to continue forward, just use your judgement. Also, don’t be discouraged if you don’t get this right the first few times it takes patience and practice to get good at judging birds in the field.
So in review bird watching does not scare birds away when done correctly! Remember to not approach them directly, if you do you’ll easily spook them. The second point was to instead let them approach you, you can do this effectively by positioning yourself in their projected destination.
Third, don’t be loud but be subtle you can be subtle in your movements, by being quiet, and my wearing neutral muted colors. Lastly, listen to what the birds are telling you. They speak body language, so study up. If they stop doing their routine you’ve gone too far.
We really hope this article help you get closer to birds in the field. Any question feel free to reach out through email or leave a comment below. Thanks for reading!