Discover the beauty and diversity of city birds! City Birding (also called Urban Birding) is a fantastic hobby that will allow you to view an incredible variety of amazing birds in the city. It is also very easy and affordable to get going. You may have many questions about how to start bird watching in the city, including where you can see the most city birds, and what kinds of equipment you will need.
For city birding, visit birding hotspots and bird refuges in the city. Use apps and field guides to identify urban birds by songs and features. Take city birding tours. Create a bird habitat to attract birds to your city yard or balcony. Go city birding during migration. Learn how to protect birds in cities.
Whether you’re a beginner or an experienced birder, my “City Birding – 17 Tips for Viewing Birds in the City” guide will help you to appreciate the beauty of urban birds and contribute to bird conservation as well.
If you are interested in learning how to be an urban birder, the good news is that it can be as easy as you want it to be! Here are 17 ways to start right in your own neighborhood.
1. Simply Look and Listen for Birds in the City
According to the well-known Urban Birder, David Lindo, this is the easiest way to begin birding! Even in the middle of a big city, you will most likely see birds hopping along the sidewalks, on building ledges, on trash bins, and in the trees. They are everywhere once you start looking. You may not have ever noticed them before. You will even find birds in supermarket parking lots and outdoor café areas as you go about your daily routine.
If there is a park near your home, you can sit on a park bench and quietly wait for birds to appear. I can pretty much guarantee that before long you will see and hear many birds. There are countless numbers of movies where someone is sitting on a park bench, feeding the birds or surrounded by them. It’s a cliche but it works because… it mirrors real life! If the park has a pond or lake, even better!
Listening for birds may not come naturally since, in a big city, it’s common to automatically start filtering out all of the noise you encounter as you walk down a city street. But if you selectively tune into birdsong and chatter, it will then be easier for you to spot birds.
As a great motivator – install the Merlin Bird ID app for iOS, and Android, step outside, turn it on, and watch it identify the birds you are hearing!
2. Go City Birding in the Early Morning
Birds are at their most active in the early morning so if you want to spot more birds in the city, this is the best time to go bird watching. In the early morning, birds are hungry and out foraging for food. It’s breakfast time! Since insects are plentiful at this time and are warmed by the sun, it’s like an insect breakfast buffet for birds.
After spending the morning hours dining on insects, birds slow down during the noon hour and mid-afternoon, taking a break from their activities. If the weather is hot, they shelter and seek shade in shrubs, bushes, and trees. In cold weather, they use the greenery to warm themselves.
Towards the late afternoon, birds become active again, seeking more food for an early dinner. And shortly before sunset, birds get a second wind that coincides with the early evening appearance of insects.
3. Take a City Birding Tour to Learn From an Expert
I highly recommend guided city birding tours! – I think that learning from an expert is the easiest, most efficient, and most enjoyable way to learn. If you live in a city, I am betting that there are local guided birding tours in your area. They are often free or fairly inexpensive.
You can research birdwatching tours online, and you can also call your local Audubon Society and ask about birding tours in your area. Check out these great birding tours in and around New York City!
Guided bird-watching tours are also great ways to meet other birders in the city. You will find that there will be a mix of birders who have been birding for a long time and birders who are complete novices. You will not only learn about birds but about birding equipment like binoculars, field guides, favorite birding apps, and cameras.
4. Visit Birding Hotspots and Refuges in the City
Some of the best places for city birding are city birding hotspots. These are areas in the city that are known as great places for birdwatching due to the variety and the sheer number of birds that frequent these areas. They are super popular with birders. Some birding hotspots are city parks that you may already be familiar with!
Birding refuges are also excellent places for city birding. Bird refuges are bird sanctuaries that are designed to protect and conserve birds and their habitats. Birds can safely breed, eat, and rest without having to worry about humans chopping down trees and destroying their nests to turn their habitats into shopping malls and subdivisions. Birding refuges are wonderful places to observe and enjoy birds as they frolic in their natural environment.
Many local birding clubs, the local Audubon Society, and nature centers are great sources of information about birding hotspots and birding refuge locations, as well as birding tours that take place there. You can also go online to research local hotspots and bird refuges.
5. Go City Birding During Fall and Spring Migration
If you want to see the greatest variety of birds in your city, and in the greatest numbers, then go birding when birds are migrating in the spring and fall. During bird migration, migratory birds come through that you won’t see during other times of the year. Many birding tours also take place during bird migration since there are so many birds to see.
Some of the common bird species that can be seen in urban environments during fall migration include sparrows, thrushes, raptors, shorebirds, and waterfowl. During spring migration you can also see swallows and thrushes as well as warblers, orioles, and many other brightly colored birds.
There are great tools like Birdcast that will provide you with digital up-to-date migration forecast data so you can learn the best times to view the greatest numbers of birds. Birdcast also uses data from ebird.org to tell you which birds are most likely to appear in your area at any given time during migration.
6. Turn Your City Yard into a Bird Habitat
You can create a backyard bird sanctuary and go urban birding right in the small yard of your city home. No need to even leave the house.
Attracting birds to your yard is a low-effort way to enjoy the beauty and diversity of birds in cities. If you create a bird habitat, you will be able to observe and learn so much more about birds. You can draw birds to your small yard with a variety of bird feeders and water sources. Using the best native plants will also allow you to provide birds with food, shelter, and perhaps even nesting sites.
If you have the room, set up a comfortable seating area or deck to view the birds, and keep a pair of binoculars and field guide handy! You can count the birds you see and participate in the Great Backyard Bird Count. It’s a great way to contribute to scientific research to help monitor local bird populations.
7. Attract Birds to Your Condo or Apartment Balcony
If you live in an apartment or condo and have a balcony, you can attract birds to your city balcony. It’s like creating a backyard bird habitat in miniature. Imagine if your birding habitat was steps away from your kitchen or living room! It’s such a convenient way to connect with nature even while living in the heart of the city.
Even in a small space, by using bird feeders, and potted plants that provide seeds and fruits, you can attract different kinds of birds. You can also use trellises or hanging baskets to create vertical gardens. For water sources, you can create small bird baths to provide birds with a place to drink and bathe.
You can make your balcony bird habitat safe for birds by keeping your balcony super clean and using window decals or other methods to help prevent birds from flying into windows and balcony glass.
8. Learn to Identify City Birds by Songs and Calls
Learning to identify birds by bird songs and bird calls is an essential skill for any urban bird watcher and will exponentially increase the joy of city birding. Bird songs are one of the most beautiful forms of animal communication, and they can be a fantastic way to learn more about birds and their behaviors.
I know enough bird songs and bird calls so that I often don’t even need to look up to identify a singing bird. And if I do, I know the exact bird I am trying to spot. It makes birding so much more satisfying, easy, and fun. There are lots of tips and tricks, and apps to help.
I love using the Merlin ID app for iOS, and Android for identifying birds’ sounds and calls.
9. Learn to Identify City Birds by Features
Learning how to identify birds by their features is a skill you may want to master as an urban birder. When you begin to tease apart the colors, patterns, shapes, and sizes that define a bird, you will also develop a deeper appreciation of the beauty and varieties of birds.
Understanding bird behaviors and where birds are likely to be located will also enhance your bird identification skills. There are great bird apps to assist as well.
10. Keep a Record of the Birds in Cities You See
Keeping a record of the birds you see while urban birding is a great way to track your own personal birding journey! Use a bird watching journal to write down the bird species, location, and time of day that you see different birds. Also, note the bird’s behavior – perhaps it was foraging for food, munching on a worm, or taking shelter in a bush.
As your birding skills grow, the list of birds you have seen and identified will grow as well. You can also contribute to citizen science projects to help monitor bird populations,
It’s fun to look back at previous entries you have made. As you meet other birders you will find that many of them keep a birding journal and enjoy sharing their observations. You can share yours as well!
11. Learn Birding Etiquette for City Birding
Birding etiquette is important for all bird watchers but it’s even more important in the city simply because there are so many people around. I’ve often found myself bumping into someone while looking up at a bird and walking at the same time! It’s happened to every city birder at one time or another. I’ve even bumped into other birders doing the same thing.
We also want to be quiet and keep movements to a minimum so we don’t scare birds away. And if we see other birders, it’s nice to greet them and point out the birds we are seeing.
Of course, it is important to respect the birds and their habitat. We want to stay on designated trails and paths and be careful to not trample on vegetation, or disturb birds. After all, we don’t want to chase a bird down 5th Avenue or disrupt nesting sites in Central Park!
12. Take Bird Courses and Join Birding Groups
Continue to expand your knowledge of birds and urban bird watching by taking bird courses and becoming part of the birding community. There are many local birding groups you can participate in.
You can call your local Audubon Society to learn about workshops, classes, and tours. You can use social media to learn about the birding hotspots in your area and connect with local birders. There are bound to be local birding groups and an active birding community in your area. They are a welcoming and kind community with members of all ages and socio-economic backgrounds. Don’t be afraid to reach out.
There is no end of You-Tubes on bird watching that you can watch and there are libraries full of books about birds (if you have not yet ordered David Sibley’s newest book I highly recommend it – it’s gorgeous!)
Even if you don’t know much about birding now, I am betting that as you start observing and identifying birds, you will want to keep learning more.
13. Share Your Knowledge to Mentor a New Urban Birder
Research has shown that one of the best ways to cement your newfound knowledge is through mentoring. As you grow in your knowledge of birds in cities and bird watching in the city, take a novice birder under your wings and share your knowledge. Help them learn to identify birds by their features and songs, and how to use field guides. Share your favorite bird apps with them. Tell them about your favorite birding hotspots and bird refuges.
Mentoring new bird watchers is also a great way to contribute to and grow the birding community. You can introduce new birders to other experienced birders, and take them to birding events. You can also encourage them to support bird conservation efforts.
All in all, it’s a fun way to help build an engaged community of local birders and to make many new birding friends along the way.
14. Use Binoculars to Study and Observe City Birds
The great thing about birding is that you do not need any special equipment to do it, though a great pair of bird-watching binoculars will enhance your viewing pleasure ten-fold!
It is so exciting to use birding binoculars to zoom in on a bird that you sight in the treetops, or even a bird that is relatively close. See if you enjoy birding and if you do, consider purchasing a pair of birding binoculars.
Check out my top binocular recommendations that are mid-priced, as well as my recommendations for budget-priced binoculars. All of my recommendations are perfect for those who wear glasses as well as those with perfect vision.
15. Consider a Field Guide, Smartphone, and Camera
Bring a field guide or field guide app that will help you identify city birds that you will see. Being able to identify the birds that you see will help you increase your birding skills.
My favorite field guide and birding app combination are Peterson’s Field Guide to Birds of North America and the Merlin ID app for iOS, and Android. I often use the Merlin ID app to identify the name of the bird and Peterson’s Field Guide to read more about it.
If you have a camera or smartphone and think you may want to photograph the birds you see, consider bringing that as well. I love photographing the birds I have seen and then looking back at the photos – it’s a great way to document each birding trip I take.
However, do not bring so much that you feel weighed down. That will defeat the purpose – birding is supposed to be relaxing and if you are lugging around 10 pounds of equipment it won’t be much fun. Keep it simple.
16. Dress for Comfort and to Reduce Sound When Moving
Dress comfortably since you will be doing a bit of walking in the city, as well as in parks and other green spaces. A broken-in pair of shoes is important. Bring water, snacks, and sunscreen if you plan on birding for an extended length of time, and a jacket in case it gets cold. A backpack to store everything in will come in handy so that you don’t have to carry too many items.
Wearing fabrics that minimize sound when you move is also advisable. Even though many urban birds have become comfortable around people and so are not as easily disturbed by human movement and sound, you should still try to dress for quiet.
I have a jacket that makes a loud scratchy sound whenever I shift position or the camera strap rubs against it, so I never wear it when birding.
17. Learn How to Protect Birds in the City
Protect the birds you love! Birds are such a vital part of the urban ecosystem. We may not realize that even in the city birds help maintain an ecological balance by controlling insect populations, pollinating plants, and dispersing seeds.
Birds also add incredible beauty and inspiration to city dwellers. The sight and songs of a lovely little bird can cheer up the most jaded and grumpy urbanites as they walk to work on a Monday morning.
Cities can pose unique challenges to birds, including loss of habitat, and flying into windows on buildings due to window reflections and artificial lights. Educate yourself on how you can help. Advocate for conservation efforts and movements like Lights Out!
I think you might naturally want to engage in these kinds of efforts once you start birding. Once you start observing and studying birds, they become very “real” to you, and you start to care about their well-being.
When can I see the greatest variety of birds in the city?
To see the greatest variety of birds go birding during bird migration in the fall, winter, or spring. Spring migration is the best time to see bright and colorful birds. To see the most birds, go birding at birding hotspots and birding refuges in the city.
How can I protect birds in the city?
To protect birds in the city, 1. Use bird-friendly building material, 2. Don’t place feeders too close to windows, 3. Turn off building and residential lighting at night, 3. Create bird sanctuaries in your yard or on your balcony, 4. Don’t use pesticides, and 5. Support bird protection organizations and efforts worldwide.
What is a bird refuge?
Bird refuges are bird sanctuaries where birds can safely breed, forage, and rest. They are intentionally designed to protect birds and their habitats. They are excellent environments to study and observe birds in their natural environments.
When are birds at their most active?
Birds are most active early in the morning since they are hungry and looking for food. Insects that birds eat are also out and about and warmed by the sun. The next most active times for birds are the late afternoon since they are looking to nourish themselves again, and shortly before sunset since insects make an early evening appearance.