A guide to backyard birdwatching

Ever wondered what kind of bird that is chirping away in your front yard? Don't be a birdbrain -- start investigating.

All you need is a pair of binoculars, a field guide specific to the area and a good attitude, according to Amy Tressler, curator of education at the Coastal Discovery Museum at Honey Horn on Hilton Head Island.

"It does take patience to be out there in the field birding," Tressler said. "Sometimes you have a great day, and sometimes you don't see as much. But that's kind of the thrill of it -- not really knowing what you're going to see out there at any given time."

The Hilton Head museum recently teamed up with the Hilton Head Island Audubon Society to offer a free family bird walk around the Honey Horn property.

"It was a way to encourage people to get outdoors and learn about some of the bird species we have here in the Lowcountry," Tressler said.

She said participants spotted a variety of species of birds. They saw several wading birds, including a great egret, a snowy egret, a yellow-crowned night heron, a white ibis, a tricolored heron and a great blue heron. And although they didn't see them, they heard clapper rails, one of the more elusive salt marsh birds.

Tressler said wading birds are ideal for first-time birders because they tend to be slow-moving. And since it's fall migration now, it's a great time to see warblers in forested areas because they aren't in the area year-round.


Get to know the birds: "The hardest part about birding is starting to learn the different species," Tressler said. She suggests studying the different sizes and shapes of birds, learning about their behaviors, what parts of the habitat they utilize and what they eat.

Identify patterns: She said to look for plumage patterns that would distinguish one species from others.

"If you can start to recognize what rafters look like versus what warblers look like, that's going to help you eliminate a lot of choices as far as what potential birds there could be out there," Tressler said.

Listen to their songs: But she said one of the best ways to identify birds is to learn their songs and calls. She suggests purchasing a CD of common songbird calls.

"That's their language," Tressler said. "It's really neat if you can kind of tune in on that."

Head out early: She said the early morning hours are the best for birding because that's when the birds are most active. More experienced birders often use spotting scopes, which allow them to look at birds much further away. And a lot of birders bring cameras to confirm sightings.

But most importantly, Tressler says, "Just get out there and have fun."


Coastal Discovery Museum

Hilton Head Island Audubon Society