Birding Guide for Camping Families

by Ernie on September 26, 2012

Blue Jay

Blue Jay

It’s easy to slip into the same-old camping activities. S’mores around the fire. A hike to the lake. Maybe a romp on the four wheeler. None of these things are bad, but camping isn’t about a routine. It’s about breaking the mold! It’s about enjoying nature with your family.

So do something new: take your family birding. Although birding requires a little planning beforehand, it’s not nearly as complicated or expensive as you might think. Even the kids will enjoy it. Here are the things you need to know to get started.





You really do need binoculars if you’re going to take the family birding – but that doesn’t mean it has to be expensive or complicated! Let me first acknowledge that binoculars can be very expensive, up into the $1,000 range. But you won’t need to spend anywhere near that, so don’t worry about the price. Focus on what they can do. I need to add binoculars to my list of things to take camping.

Second, binoculars are complicated. They have a lot of details, and I encourage you to read the “birding binocular buying guide” if you have the time. However, I can give you some very basic details that will allow you to choose a pair of binoculars for your camping trip. These details have to do with magnification and diameter (if your eyes just glazed over, stay with me! This is easier than it sounds).

On the top of a pair of binoculars you’ll find two numbers formatted something like “7×40.” The first number, paired with the “x,” is the magnification. You would say “seven ex” or “seven power.” A pair of binoculars with “7x” will magnify something up to 7 times its size. As you can imagine, the higher the number the more expensive the binoculars.

You need about 6x for a family outing. This will give you good magnification with a decent price. Additionally, this lower magnification is better with kids. The higher a magnification the more visible “shake” is in the binoculars (aka. The higher the magnification the more steady you must hold the binoculars).

The second number represents the diameter of the lens in millimeters. The bigger the diameter the more light it will gather. If you’re going birding in the afternoon (instead of dawn or dusk) you’ll need a 20 diameter lens. Put these together: You should buy 6×20 binoculars.

I suggest you only buy one pair and share it as a family. Help the kids make some homemade binoculars, though, so that they don’t go birding empty-handed.

Bird calls
You can buy a bird whistle if you want, but I don’t suggest it. Instead, use technology (like an mp3 player) to simulate bird calls.

First, you’ll need to find out which birds you’ll encounter. You can either call the campsite or ask the American Birding Association or other birding association in your area.

Second, find an audio version of that bird’s (or birds’) call online. You’ll find some audio files for free; others you might have to pay for.

Third, get some small, portable speakers that travel well. Instead of using a bird whistle, use your audio player and these speakers to call the birds.

Where to go

The camp site director should be able to point you in the right direction, but you should also do your own research beforehand. Search the Internet to find out what kinds of birds are in your area and what time of day you can find them. Additionally, find out if there are any birding trails in your area. These are pre-established trails where you’re most likely to find birds.

Finally, don’t always look up! You can find birds at all levels: near the ground, in shrubs, out on a limb, closer to the trunk, etc. Encourage your kids to look around at eye level. They may be able to find a bird themselves.

Other thoughts

A birding guide is helpful, but not necessary. Your kids may not be able to focus long enough to look a bird up. Instead, bring along some paper and a pencil or crayon. Try to draw the birds instead. This will help your kids (and you) to appreciate the nature around them better.

Have you been birding with your family while on a camping trip? What did you learn along the way that others should know?

Photo credits:
Sponjeni / binoculars
BobMacInnes / BlueJay

This post was written by Ernie

Ernie Allison loves nature. More specifically, he loves birds and wants to teach others how to appreciate them, too. When he's not sharing his stories with others, he's watching his bird feeder and trying to get decent pictures of the quick critters.

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