The basics

Birdwatching tours can involve trekking, walking, canoeing and sailing adventure into national parks, rivers, coastal and wilderness areas. They often require real off-the-beaten track journeys and some element of physical fitness, although there are sedate versions too such as cruising vacations. In all it’s a fantastic way to travel.

When you are birding you usually get to see an amazing array of other wildlife also. For example polar expeditions will take you into the domain of whales, polar bears and sea lions. In Africa birding may also lead you to lions, rhinoceros and elephants.

Given the unpredictable nature of weather and the bird kingdom there are never any guarantees that you will see all the species you set out to find. Many birds are seen only briefly or at a distance, and can be missed by participants or even the trip leaders themselves. It does pay to stay alert, participate and call out any bird sightings.

As the numbers of birders increase so have the festivals, trails, destinations and tour companies.

Options for beginners

Going on a guided excursion is the best way to start if you have limited or no experience. Nature guides are often highly skilled at finding the birds and helping you see them. They can explain birds, identify them and note the field marks to look for. If you tell them your target birds they will usually make a special effort to help you detect them.

Having said that, each participant plays a big part in birding by constantly scanning the skies and calling out birds as they see them; so there are opportunities to get involved.

If you have little skill level or fitness, choose an appropriate tour. If you don’t like roughing it choose a trip that stays in lodges rather than tents. If your fitness isn’t up to par pick trips that have limited trekking time or don’t involve a lot of canoeing or other exertions. Also consider that while boat cruises might be easier physically, your stomach might not take to the seas. The easiest trips are those on land that offer viewing within short walking distances or even places you can arrive by coach/car.

Similarly, if you’re not entirely sure you want to do just birdwatching, consider itineraries that offer opportunities to see mammals, interesting landscapes and include a variety of activities.

Options for advanced

While a lot of tours keep their groups small you may like to hire your own guide to increase the possibility of finding rare species. It will also suit those who prefer to travel free of crowds and be more independent.

If you have become particularly adept at finding and identifying bird species you can always go it alone. If you’ve already undertaken tours you will probably have picked your previous guides’ brains, researched online or found out from other travelers where good places are for birding. There are also plenty of guidebooks to assist you in locating species.

Pelagic birding is often considered the ultimate challenge for birders. Pelagic birds are those of the open seas such as albatross and petrel. These trips can be long and tiring, not to mention the hazard of rolling seas for the stomach. But they are also addictive.