This is not another list of what to buy your favorite birder for Christmas. There are plenty of lists like that already; every birding magazine and website seems to have one. Most suggestions seem more helpful to the makers of the products featured than they are to the gift giver… or the recipient.
See, the problem is that birding doesn’t really require a lot of stuff. Sure, you spend your wad on good optics, and you need a field guide or two. But one of benefits of birdwatching is that you don’t need a lot of gear. Once you’re set, you can get on about the business of watching birds, which is really the point. Birders do not collect birds—they collect sightings of birds.
Not to miss an opportunity, many manufacturers have come up with “birding accessories”—things like special tote bags for your book and binos, many-pocketed vests, volumes on where to go birding, and journals with bird drawings on the cover. I’m sure all those are useful, but they’re certainly not regarded as must-haves. An old fanny pack, internet access, and a 99¢ notepad work just as well.
Instead of telling you what to buy for your gift list birder, I’m going to make a suggestion for a gift you can’t buy. No one ever said that gifts have to cost a lot of money.
Take your birder birding. Birding by oneself is all right, but having a willing companion along is so much better. Give the gift of time and spend a day, or even just a morning, out in the field together.
Don’t know where to go? Try asking at the local wild bird store, or contact your local Audubon chapter or other birding club. Do a web search for birding hotspots in your area. (A useful combination of search words would be “birding,” “hotspot,” and the name of your town or county. Or try “birding trail” and the name of your state.) One helpful website is “Where Do You Want to Go Birding Today?”
Here are a few tips to make your gift more rewarding:
- Start early in the morning. You might enjoy your sleep, but birds are early risers. (If you’d really be a liability at sunrise, consider making it an owling trip instead.)
- Dress in subdued colors, wear comfy shoes, and speak quietly. You don’t want to scare away the birds you’ve come to see.
- Be a good sport. It doesn’t matter if you’re not a birder yourself. This isn’t about you anyway. Sure, you might be a bit bored if nature isn’t your cup of tea. On the other hand, you might discover that birding is fun. At least be open to the possibility.
- Get involved. Hold the spot in the field guide while your companion takes another look at a mystery bird. Be an extra pair of eyes. Describe what you see. No skill required.
For a gift you can wrap, create a gift certificate, or maybe pick up some brochures or maps for the place you’ll be heading. If you feel that you need to spend money, treat the two of you to lunch. Looking at birds always works up a good appetite.