7 Must-Have Birdwatcher Gifts: Veteran Birdwatchers Reveal Their Ultimate Wish List for Beginner Birdwatchers

Author: Tammy Poppie
Updated:

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best gifts for birdwatchers

Discover the 7 best gifts for beginner birdwatchers according to people who used to be “beginners” – veteran birdwatchers!  I polled almost 500 people who’ve been backyard birdwatching for years and these are the top 7 gifts that they would have loved to receive.

When I started birdwatching more than 25 years ago, my husband really wanted to encourage my new hobby so went “all-out” for Christmas. That year, I unwrapped 3 gifts from my husband including:

  1. A ceramic figurine of a bluebird
  2. A Birds of North America quilt
  3. A birdbath

Bless his heart! He tried so hard and although I appreciate the thought he put into the gifts, he really didn’t know what to buy for a birdwatcher. 

I used the quilt and put the bluebird on the mantle but neither nurtured my new hobby of birdwatching. (Little did he know, the birdbath was genius!)

If you’re not familiar with birdwatching you probably have no idea what to get a beginner birdwatcher either. Good news! You don’t have to go through the painful experience of wondering and hoping your gift is a hit. Instead, I’ve gathered the 7 most-wished-for gifts for beginner birdwatchers.  

These are birdwatching gear items most wished for by 474 veteran birdwatchers back when they were first starting out. How do I know? I asked them!  

That’s right, I asked 474 veteran birdwatchers “What gift would you have liked to have received when you started birdwatching?” and tallied their results. 

The “Beginner Birdwatcher Gift “ Poll

474 veteran birdwatchers were asked, “What gift would you have liked to have received when you started birdwatching?”. This is what they said:

  1. Binoculars: 41% wish they’d received binoculars
  2. Camera: 34% wanted a camera
  3. Bird Feeder: 9% wanted a birdfeeder
  4. Bird ID Guide: 7% wished for a bird identification guide
  5. Bird Feeder Pole System: 4% yearned for a bird feeder pole system
  6. Outdoor Camera: 3% wanted an outdoor camera
  7. Birdbath: 2% hoped for a birdbath
gifts for beginner birdwatchers

Having the right equipment can make all the difference in whether or not a new hobby fizzles out fast or manifests into a passion. Forget the impersonal gift cards this year, show your family and friends you put some real thought into the present!

Back to that beginner birder on your list…

In addition to the top gift ideas bird lovers wish for most, I also provide specific product recommendations as well as where to find them online, for easy shopping.  

OK, let’s check out the top 7 gifts beginner birdwatchers need (and want)!

#1 Binoculars

Not surprisingly, the majority of the veteran backyard bird watcher votes (41%) went to binoculars as the most desired gift when starting out bird watching. 

Without binoculars, you’re just another person on earth looking up and seeing fluffing things fly by.

With binoculars, you’re able to bring the wild birds up close so you can start honing your bird identification skills. Not to mention, observing their behaviors. 

Based on the comments provided in the poll, not just any pair of binoculars will do. Instead, they said, “get a good pair”. Binoculars that don’t cut muster result in frustration and the beginner birders may quit the hobby prematurely.

What makes a good pair of birding binoculars?

A good pair of binoculars provides a clear and bright image (even in the dark shadows), allows for close viewing as well as far away, offers eye relief, and fits your budget. 

Buying the right pair of binoculars can be a little tricky if you don’t know what to look for. First, it’s important to understand “the binocular numbers”. 

What the Binocular Numbers Mean 

Every pair of binoculars has a pair of numbers associated with them. The 1st number is strength and the 2nd number is the size of the objective lens.

Strength = Magnification power. Determines how much larger the object will be. 

Size = Objective Lens Diameter. Determines the light-gathering power of the binoculars resulting in a brighter image. 

On the surface, it seems like the bigger the better, right? Not so fast. It’s actually a balancing act.

  • The bigger magnification means a closer view of the birds but also means any small movement pushes the object out of view as well as being more expensive.
  • The bigger size/objective lens means more light and brighter images but it also means a bigger and heavier pair of binoculars as well as being more expensive.

My research combined with the poll results shows the most common size binoculars for all birdwatchers (not just beginners) is 8×42 and is what I recommend.

The National Audubon Society, an American non-profit environmental organization dedicated to the conservation of birds and their habitat, recommends several different binoculars at varying price points that meet all of the objectives discussed above.

Who am I to argue with the Audubon Society? Seriously, these are excellent binos (lingo) and one is sure to please the beginner birders on your list.

Best Overall

swarovski 8.5x42 EL binoculars

Swarovski 8.5×42 EL

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Best Under $2,000

Vortex razor 8x42 binoculars

Vortex Razor 8×42 UHD

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Best Under $1,000

Maven ED 8x42 Binoculars

Maven ED 8×42

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Best Under $500

ZEISS Terra ED 10x42 Binoculars

ZEISS Terra ED 10×42

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Best Budget-Friendly

nikon prostaff 3x 8x42 binoculars

Nikon PROSTAFF 3S 8×42

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Many newbies appreciate a small, compact pair of binoculars that fit nicely in their pocket for on-the-go birdwatching. My top pick is the Zeiss Terra ED 8×25 compact binoculars – perfect for birding or any kind of nature enthusiast.


#2 Camera

34% of the veteran bird lovers said a camera is the best present for new backyard birders and something they wish they had back when they first started out. 

Today there are hundreds of different models of cameras ranging anywhere from $450 to almost $50,000, so where do you begin? You begin with understanding the 3 main types of cameras suitable for bird watching: DSLR, Mirrorless, and Bridge.

DSLR cameras are used by professionals and many advanced amateur hobbyists. DSLRs contain a mirror inside which is used to capture the light and ultimately the image. Additional attributes of DSLR cameras include:

  • Interchangeable lenses allow for very high zoom capabilities.
  • Large sensors equate to better image quality.
  • Larger and heavier than other camera types due to the mirror inside.
  • The most expensive camera type.

Mirrorless cameras are essentially DSLR cameras without a mirror. They’re also referred to as CSC (compact camera systems) since they are smaller than DSLRs (no mirror requires a smaller housing).

Additional attributes of mirrorless cameras include:

  • Interchangeable lenses allow for very high zoom capabilities.
  • Usually less expensive than DSLRs.
  • Smaller sensors equate to good quality but not as good as DSLRs.
  • Smaller and less bulky than DSLRs.
  • The cost of a mirrorless is generally between a bridge and a DSLR.

Bridge cameras are the body and lens combined into one. They’re intended to “bridge the gap” between DSLRs and compact cameras by offering high quality with a built-in lens at a great value.

In recent years manufacturers have developed several “super zoom” models that tip the scale in the zoom department. Additional attributes of the bridge camera include:

  • Single lenses rather than interchangeable lenses result in less versatility.
  • Smaller sensors mean good quality but not as good as DSLRs.
  • Often the least expensive of all camera types.
  • Some settings are fixed resulting in less creativity for the photographer. This may be a good thing for a beginner or sometimes who wants great shots of birds but not the fuss of fiddling with settings.

Comparison of Camera Types

BridgeMirrorlessDSLR
Sensor Size / Image QualitySmall / GoodMedium / BetterLarge / Best
Interchangeable LensNoYes, limited choicesYes, many choices
Cost (including lens)$$$$$$$$$
Adequate ZoomMany superzoom optionsYes Yes
BulkLess Bulky, although superzoom models can be quite large & heavyMedium BulkyBulky
Experience LevelBeginner – AmateurAmateur – ProAmateur – Pro

How to Choose the Perfect Camera for a Beginner Birdwatcher

Birds are not great models. They’re fidgety, don’t stay in place very long, and fly away at the speed of light. For these reasons, a birdwatcher’s camera must have a fast auto-focus and frame capture rate.

And, since wild birds are tiny little creatures that don’t let you get close, a strong zoom lens is crucial.

Given the newbie nature of your gift recipient, I recommend a superzoom bridge camera type to get them started. The zoom capability will enable them to see the birds as closely as possible and the attributes of the bridge will not overwhelm the budding birdwatcher.

The bridge cameras I recommend below meet the auto-focus, frame capture rate, and zoom requirements of a birdwatcher and provide value to you and your wallet 😉

Best Overall

the best superzoom camera for birding - the nikon p950

Nikon Coolpix P950

The Nikon P950 is the best superzoom camera for the birder who wants extreme zoom capability and great image quality, but in a slightly smaller & lighter body (compared to the Nikon P1000).  

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Best Max Zoom

Nikon Coolpix P1000 superzoom camera for birding

Nikon Coolpix P1000

The Nikon Coolpix P1000 is the best superzoom for maximum zoom capability and amazing image quality – even if the camera is a bit larger and heavier than the P950.

View on Amazon

Best for Speed

Sony CyberShot RX10IV Camera

Sony CyberShot RX10IV

The Sony CyberShot RX10IV is the fastest superzoom camera available (24 fps) providing you with a huge variety of great images to choose from with each shot.

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Best Compact

Canon PowerShot SX70 HS superzoom camera for birding

Canon PowerShot SX70

The Canon PowerShot SX70 HS is a compact camera with an impressive optical zoom of 65x.

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Best Budget-Friendly

Panasonic Lumix FZ80 superzoom camera for birding

Panasonic Lumix FZ80

The Panasonic Lumix FZ80 is for birders who want closeups of the birds without breaking the budget. Not available new but we still recommend a used unit.

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#3 Bird Feeder

There are just as many bird feeder choices on the market as there are cameras and binoculars put together. It’s mind-boggling. 

The bird lover on your list will appreciate a bird feeder that checks all of these boxes:

  • Easy to clean
  • Holds bird food that attracts a large variety of songbirds
  • Large enough to welcome cardinals (medium-sized birds) and chickadees (small birds)

With that, I have three recommendations: an open-style platform feeder, a covered platform feeder, and a tube feeder + base attachment add-on. 

Platform feeders are wide and open enabling multiple birds to comfortably perch around the edges at the same time. Platform feeders also:

  • Support literally any kind of bird food. Toss a handful each day and away you go.
  • Are super easy to clean. 
  • Are the favorite style feeder of America’s favorite bird – the cardinal!

Best Overall

Woodlink going green platform feeder

Woodlink Going Green Platform

Best feeder for any species of bird and any type of food. Simply toss onto the food every few days and you can enjoy the widest variety of visitors.

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Best Automatic

auto bird feeder made by Wingscapes

Wingscapes Bird AutoFeeder

This feeder is great for those who go on vacation and worry about feeding the birds or just want better control over how much the birds eat each day.

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Best Tube Style

Droll Yankee tube bird feeder.

Droll Yankees New Generation

This feeder is one of the best standard tube feeders. Keeps food dry and with the optional feed tray, all-size species can comfortably perch.

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Best for Larger Birds

seed tray attachment for tube feeder

Droll Yankees Bird Feeder Tray Attachment

A great addition to the tube feeder it allows for larger sizes of birds to visit.

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#4 Bird Identification Guide

7% of the veteran birdwatchers said a bird guide is crucial for new birdwatchers. It makes sense. As a newbie, it’s unlikely you know the name of the species quite yet. With a good bird guide and a little time, a new birder will be able to identify the species in their yard in no time.

Below are the bird guides recommended by 33 veteran bird watchers.

Recommended Bird Identification Guides

Peterson Field Guide to Birds of Eastern & Central North America

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national geographic bird guide

National Geographic Field Guide to the Birds of North America

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#5 Bird Feeder Pole System

Bird feeder pole systems are inserted into the ground and provide hooks for hanging bird feeders. The systems vary in strength, stability, the number of hooks, material, and of course cost. Many poles are also squirrel-proof while others are not. 

I reviewed over 9 bird feeder pole systems and found the top 3. I recommend one of the following three bird feeder pole systems for the lucky birdwatcher on your list:

Recommended Bird Feeder Pole Systems

Best Overall

squirrel stopper sequoia bird pole with feeders on it

Squirrel Stopper Sequoia

Ideal for the avid backyard birder who needs a squirrel-proof pole.

View on JCS Wildlife
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Best Heavy Duty

Squirrel Stopper Deluxe

You’re an avid backyard birder with large, heavy feeders, and need a squirrel-proof pole.

View on JCS Wildlife
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Best Budget

Feed Garden bird feeder pole system

Feed Garden Deluxe

If you’re new to backyard birding and don’t have squirrel problems.

View on Amazon

#6 Outdoor Camera

Many use outdoor cameras to provide security around their home and yard. With built-in motion detectors, the camera automatically goes on and records the movement.

Birdwatchers love outdoor cameras to capture wild bird movement in the yard. Since many birds are tiny and zippy, an outdoor camera with a motion detector is the only way to capture some of them.

It also enables you to download videos and share them with others – such as on Instagram or birdwatching groups on Facebook.

Many of the veteran birdwatchers I polled recommend the Blink camera system. It’s the one I recommend as well.

I have the Blink system and another popular brand. The Blink is hands down the best quality outdoor camera rendering a pretty crisp image. Additionally, the battery life is almost unbelievable. I have 2 blink cameras I installed 7 months ago. One is in my bluebird nesting box and one on my bird feeder pole system pointed toward my platform feeder. The batteries are still going strong on both cameras.

The Blink camera I recommend is for outdoor use, is wireless, weather-resistant, has a 2-year battery life, and is really easy to set up. Trust me, if I can set it up myself, anyone can 🙂

Recommended Birdwatcher Outdoor Camera

Best Overall

Blink outdoor wireless camera

Blink Outdoor Wireless Camera

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#7 Heated Birdbath

A birdbath is a brilliant present for a new birdwatcher because it’s so simple – set it out and add water. Plus, some backyard birds don’t visit a bird feeder but will visit a birdbath!

In the wintertime, a heated birdbath is a real treasure and is the #1 way to attract birds easily. Birds appreciate the sips of water when everything around them is frozen.

I reviewed almost 20 heated birdbaths on the market and wrote a buying guide to purchasing the perfect heated birdbath.  Three heated birdbaths rose above the rest. I recommend the following three:

Recommended Heated Birdbaths

Best Overall

Songbird essentials heated bird bath

Songbird Essentials

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Best Budget

API heated birdbath with stand model 400

API 400

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Heated birdbaths are notorious for short electrical cords. That’s why I recommend getting an outdoor extension cord to avoid the frustration of setting up your birdbath only to find you can’t plug it in.

Outdoor Extension Cord 25′

Outdoor Extension Cord 50′


Conclusion

Gift-giving doesn’t have to be so hard. You’re a well-intended gift-giver who wants your recipient to not only appreciate the present you gave but also use it!

Rely on this complete beginner birdwatching list provided by veterans who know best (probably even more so than the person you’re gifting to!). You can’t go wrong.

Just imagine if they used it, loved it, and their birdwatching hobby grew into the most amazing life-changing experience for them. What a wonderful feeling it would be, knowing your gift gave them the extra nudge to move the interest into a passion.