Birdwatching is a great and popular hobby to have.  However, before becoming a birdwatcher,  consider the following.

Despite what you may think, it’s easy to be a birdwatcher.

Don’t be put off by birdwatchers’ paraphernalia such as fancy binoculars, state of the art scopes and camera lenses the size of bazookas.    Avoid being intimidated by their ability to identify birds by just their calls and flight patterns.

Some folk also think birding is for “old people” – don’t let this put you off.  The youngest birder I know started when he was nine years old with no binoculars but piles of enthusiasm and passion.  He also hijacked his father’s camera which was about the same size as him at the time.

Today, this young birder is in his teens, is able to identify birds quickly and accurately and he has his own camera.

From personal experience, there are only six things you need to know before committing yourself to the world of birds, birdwatchers and twitchers.

1. Don’t run out and buy a pair of expensive binoculars.

Old Binoculars
Try to find a more modern pair than these (seen in Museum in Swellendam)
When I first decided to become a birdwatcher, I dug out my bins (binoculars), after not being used for about 10 years, dusted them off and went birding. They were perfect.


As you make progress you will start to feel left out.  This is when your new found friends argue about the colour of the bird’s bill and all you could make out was the shape of the bird.

As a result, a good pair of bins will become a necessity.

It’s possible you will consider begging your bank manager for a loan.

Some reference books for birdwatching

2.  You don’t have to buy any birdwatching reference books

Birdwatchers are generous with their knowledge and happily tell you what bird you’re looking at.  So why spend a fortune on books?


The more serious you become, the more reference books you will need.

You’ll probably start off with a field guide, and then you’ll need another one, then another, then another, ….. then probably another one.  The next year, a more up-to-date field guide will be published, and you will well and truly need that one too.

Roberts will become a necessity even though it’s probably possible to find all the information on the internet, which is free.  I promise you will find yourself needing this book.

As you progress, you will need a book on how to identify Little Brown Jobs, Waders and Raptors.  Then you’ll need books on birds found in Uganda, Australia, even the Antartica.  Let’s not exclude Borneo, Papua New Guinea, Asia, maybe even some unknown desert.

Once you’ve exhausted your garden, nearby parks and nature reserves, you will need books on where to find birds.

Don’t let this put you off.

The good news is that your family and friends never will never run out of gift ideas for you. 

You ‘ll be delighted with the latest book “Where to watch birds in Timbuktoo”, (even though you have no idea where it is on the world map).

3.  Birdwatchers don’t have to keep a list of birds seen

Cheryl at Rooi Els after seeing Cape Rockjumper
It’s not necessary to keep a list of birds you have seen.  This is not a competition and no one is going to check how many birds you’ve ticked.

I do however recommend you keep at a “Life List”.  This is a list of each bird you have identified since you became a birder.   I’ve loved growing my life list over the years.

The above photo is when I found my 700th Southern African lifer.  It was the Cape Rockjumper seen at Rooi Els in the Cape.


One thing leads to another so they say.  Well, it’s the same with lists.  One list leads to another.  When you start birding new places you will want to keep a list of what birds were seen where.

Suddenly you need a list for your garden, Kruger Park, Western Cape, KZN, Zululand.  You then visit the Kgalagadi and now you find yourself making another list!!

When you’ve exhausted provinces, areas, nature reserves, countries, the world – then you need to start with a photographic list.

Good luck.

4.  You don’t have to be weird to be a birdwatcher

Birders, in general, are not weird, they just have weird habits.  If you don’t want to be considered weird, then avoid the following:

  • Don’t let your head sway left and right while driving. I know you’re looking for birds on either side of the road, but others don’t.  They’ll think you’re weird.
  • When you see a bird fly overhead, don’t call it out. Non-birders don’t even know birds exist.  So, by yelling “Kingfisher” while everyone is discussing the latest match between the Boks and All Blacks, you’re going to be labelled weird.
Birdwatcher calling to attract birds
  • Don’t talk bird language unless you’re with birders. Non-birders will definitely consider you weird if you stare at a tree calling “phish phish”.  I know birds sometimes respond to our attempts in communicating with them, but I promise, non-birders don’t.  They think it’s weird.
  • Don’t drive past a leopard in pursuit of that woodpecker you heard calling.

 That IS weird, even by Birdwatcher’s standards.

5.  If you’re targeting a specific bird, contact a local bird guide or tour operator.

South Africa has some fine well-qualified guides who can help you tick that bird you just can’t find on your own.  They’re really good and don’t miss a feather.  In South Africa, there are a number of qualified community bird birdwatchers as well as bird operators.

A further tip in this regard, stick close to your guide.  You need to be at his heels if you want to see the bird.  Just keep in mind bird guides are inclined to stop suddenly and unexpectedly, resulting in colliding with them.  I’m guilty of this.


Cheryl with bird guide Sakhamuzi Mhlongo
Birding with Sakhamuzi Mhlongo in  Ngoya Forest where he helped me find three lifers.

For more information about South Africa’s community bird guides Click Here.

Often times these guides have “inside” information where the elusive bird you’re seeking hangs out and can even get you into places you wouldn’t be able to go alone.


6.  There’s a special breed of birders called Twitchers.

Most of these folk have a huge life list.  When a vagrant or uncommon bird arrives, all hell breaks out.

Twitchers drop everything they are doing to chase the bird – I mean everything.  I know someone who was on route to a family holiday.  He dropped off his family, did  U-turn and drove over 8 hours just to find the Malagasy Pond Heron, considered a rarity for South Africa.


Don’t under circumstances succumb to this pressure.  Your life will never be the same.  Neither will your family’s!!

See Related Post The Crazy World of Twitchers, a Birdwatcher’s Viewpoint

See Related Post about my ‘twitch’ for the Malagasy Heron

So, if you’re brave enough, come birdwatching with us.  Remember, however, it’s all at your own peril.



  1. Rosalyn bruwer

    I am going to show Shane this thanks for sharing

    Have a wonderful week

    • Cheryl King

      Hi Ros, Glas you enjoyed the article. Had fun writing it. xx Please feel free to share with your friends.

  2. Helen Biram

    Hi fellow birder – thoroughly enjoyed your blog – and yes, all hell does break loose when a rarity is reported – blood pressure rises, bank balance drops as you jump on the plane, family sigh & shake their heads ….but chase it one must – perhaps a couple of times too?see you soon put thete bitding – from a definite ‘twitcher’ ?

    • Cheryl King

      Hi Helen. Thanks for the comment. We sure are a ‘different species’. Have so much fun writing about them.

  3. Steve davis

    Excellent blog, Cheryl – well written. And sound advice with the humour.

    • Cheryl King

      Thank you Steve. Glad you enjoyed the post, must say had fun writing it.