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It has the appeal of the hunt without the killing. It’s popularity as reading material is second only to the Bible. Over the next 50 years it will grow at a faster rate than the U.S population. What is this activity which is gaining such an immense popularity? It is the simple act of bird watching.

Bird watching? You bet. It can be an inexpensive diversion that can take you into the open spaces and challenge your mind. Since children and adults pick it up quickly, it can be enjoyed by families or by groups of friends. It can even be enjoyed alone. Birding, in stark contrast to the myriad of other popular diversions, is a clean, wholesome, healthy activity that can be done year-round just about anywhere. So, what are you waiting for? It’s time to get ornothilogical.

You don’t have to slosh through swamps or climb mountains to find interesting feathered specimens. They are, in fact, as close as your back yard. Many people find it fascinating to put out some water and a bird feeder and then simply lurk around in the shadows as they enjoy the arrival of their most welcome guests. In order to identify them, you’ll need to pick up a field guide to the birds of your region. This is a pocket-sized book with illustrations and descriptions of the male and female of each species. The better guides also include immature and seasonal plumage.

The beginner will also need to acquire a set of binoculars. In fact, a good set of binoculars is to the birder what a fishing rod is to a fisherman. A pair of binoculars will open up a whole new vista to you as you reacquaint yourself with the finer aspects of your surroundings. Be aware, however, that not all binoculars are designed for birding. Among birders, two popular models are 7 x 42 and 8 x 40. The first number refers to the power of magnification, and the second, to the diameter of the lens in millimetres. A ratio of 1 to 5 between magnification power and lens size allows you to pick out colours even in poor lighting conditions.

With your guide in hand and your binoculars around your neck, you’re now ready to check out some birds. Do you know which species are the permanent residents around your home? Which ones are the flyovers that never seem to land, perhaps on their way to a nearby lake or marsh? What migratory transients pass through in their seasonal travels? Avid birdwatchers in some areas have identified more than 210 species of birds in their own backyard!

After some experience in the backyard you may feel ready to venture a little further afield. Bird checklists are often available at parks and nature reserves. These usually indicate in which seasons species are seen there and what the likelihood is of your finding them. Try to obtain in advance a map showing the trails and the types of habitats you will encounter. The bird life is usually richer where two or more habitats meet. Whether you walk around or remain stationary, endeavour to blend in with the surroundings, and wait for the birds to come to you. Be patient.

You may want to time a field trip so you can witness a certain event in the life history of a species, such as the striking aerial display of one of the woodcocks in the early spring. Or it could be the impressive numbers of white storks at Gibraltar or the Bosporus preparing for their flight to Africa in the fall.

No matter how far you decide to go in birdwatching activity, one thing is certain – birds will never disappoint you. As long you exercise your patience, you will be rewarded. Happy birdwatching!