Bird Watching Makes For A Great Outdoor Activity
Whether you spot eagles diving for fish, finches singing from trees, or ducks gliding on the water, bird watching is a fun way to connect with nature.
You will likely explore a forest, prairie, or wetland on your next camping adventure, so why not take your binoculars to look for colorful birds? Those to look out for include:
American Coot – Also known as mud hens, American coots are tough, adaptable water birds. They are dark gray to black, with a short white bill and undertail coverts, and lobed, not webbed feet. They swim in the open like ducks and can also be seen exploring the open ground near the shore.
Belted Kingfisher – Belted Kingfishers are often heard before they are seen as they have a wild rattling call when flying over rivers and lakes. It is one of the few bird species in which the females are brighter than males. In addition to the ashy-blue upperparts, white collar, and bluish-gray breastband, females also have a chestnut band across the lower breast and streaks of chestnut on the side. During breeding season, these birds are often found near streams, lakes, rivers, and ponds.
Black-necked Stilt – These birds are abundant in American wetlands and coastlands. Black-necked stilts are identified by their black and white feathers, long beak, and long, thin red legs. When it comes to mealtime, they feast on brine shrimp, crayfish, and grasshoppers.
American Avocet – American Avocets are large shorebirds with a bold black and white pattern on their back, a long, thin, upwardly curved bill, and long bluish legs. Found in freshwater habitats in open country, they often forage the waters by sweeping their long bills from side to side. Meals usually consist of small fish and small crustaceans.
American Oystercatcher – Found along the Atlantic Coast and Pacific Coast, American oystercatchers are large, boldly patterned birds that feature a black head, brown back, stout dull pink legs, and a bold white wing stripe that is visible during flight. They’re also easily identified by their loud whistled “wheeps” call. Birdwatchers may spot them using their feet to scrape out a shallow depression from the sand that they will fill with shells and pebbles for their nest.
Aplomado Falcon – Placed on the Endangered Species list in 1986, populations of these falcons in Texas have been drastically affected by habitat loss. Their name is Spanish for lead-colored, though their common name refers to their blue-black upperparts. Aplomado falcons are slim-bodied with longish wings and tail. At dawn, birdwatchers may spot them hunting for birds, and at dusk, they feast on airborne insects.
Barn Owl – Also called common bird owls, they are the most widely distributed species of owls. Strictly nocturnal, you will likely first identify them by their eerie , raspy calls, which are unlike the hoot of other owl species. They are medium in size with long, rounded wings and short tails which combine with a buoyant, loping flight to give them a distinct flight style. Barn owls make their nests in abandoned barns, cavities, and dense trees.
Bay-brested Warbler – In the United States, bay-breasted warblers breed in the Great Lakes region and into New England. Adult males are easy to identify with their black face and chestnut head. These birds increase in population during years of spruce budworm outbreaks. At this time, they feast on thousands of these caterpillars every day.
Bell’s Vireo – Bell’s Vireo’s are small North American songbirds that are a drab gray to greenish on top and white to yellow below. They have never been observed drinking water, and it is believed that they get all that they need from their food. They are found in dense, low, shrubby, vegetation where they sing a “cheedle-cheedle-cheedle-chee, cheedle-cheedle-cheedle-chew.
Black-chinned Hummingbirds – These birds are found in lowland deserts and mountainous forests where they are seen at feeders or perched on dead branches in tall trees. Black-chinned hummingbirds are dull metallic green above and dull grayish-white underneath. Males feature a velvety black throat with a thin iridescent purple base, while females display a pale throat.
Dunlin – Dunlin‘s are shorebirds found across the globe. They have a bright reddish back and black underparts, and a long, drooping bill. They breed in wet coastal tundras, though during the winter months, they are found along mudflats, ponds, marshes, and sandy beaches. Be sure to listen to their raspy “kree” call.
Golden-fronted Woodpecker – In the United States, golden-fronted woodpeckers are found in the brushlands and open woodlands of Oklahoma and Texas. They have a barred black and white back, an orange-yellow neck, and a white rump. Those spotted in Texas during the summer may have a purple stained face from munching on the fruit of the prickly pear cactus.
Horned Puffin – Those who take an RV trip to Alaska should watch out for horned puffins. They are found in colonies on islands and coastlines, and are easily identified by their large head, black throat, white underparts, and yellow bill. Their call is a growling “arr sound.”
Lesser Yellowlegs – These medium-sized shorebirds display long, bright yellow legs, a long neck, and a white rump and tail. Both male and females care for the young, though females typically leave the nest before the chicks can fly. Their call is an interesting two-netted short whistled “tu-tu.”
Mountain Plover – Mountain Plovers are not appropriately named as they breed in high tablelands, not the mountains. They have a sandy brown back, white underparts, white face, and a brown tail with a dark patch at the tip. They feast on insects and make a coarse, grating “kip” call.
Northern Cardinal – Northern cardinals are fairly large in size and they feature a short, thick bill and a prominent crest. Males are brilliant red with reddish bills, while females are a pale brown overall with a warm reddish color on their wings. They often sit hunched over, and are found in places such as shrubby forest edges and woodlots. They generally sing for two to three seconds and it sounds like a “cheer, cheer, cheer,” or a “birdie, birdie, birdie” song.
Bird Watching Tips for Beginners
If you have never experienced a bird watching adventure, here are some helpful tips to get you started:
Keep your eye on the bird – When you spot a bird, study it for its colors, movements, and size before you consult your field guide. If you have a camera, snap a picture of the bird if you would rather make a positive identification once you are back in your RV.
Listen for Calls and Songs – While this is a simple step, it is often overlooked. Listening to the bird’s call is said to be one of the best identification tools, and it is best to watch the bird’s beak as it sings.
Be Respectful – It is important to keep your distance from sensitive species such as owls and other nesting birds. Try to keep your noise level low and make the least amount of disturbance as possible while bird watching.
Bird Walks – If you are camping at a state park, ask if the rangers host bird walks. They are a great way to visit local bird watching hot spots while learning about local bird life.
Bird watching is a fun activity for the entire family. If you are not sure which birds you spotted while camping, visit the Audubon’s website.