Tips for using binoculars for birdwatching
Binoculars are some kinda must-have for birdwatchers. Binoculars reveal the most muted colors, patterns and textures, you can zoom in to see a bird's facial details, head positions, personality or even emotions. Using a good pair of binoculars for birdwatching simply transforms your birding experience into something glorious and magical.
Using binoculars for birdwatching "seems" SO easy, but believe me it is not. We've seen people getting started on birdwatching, trying out on binoculars, and end up with a complete standstill. "There's something wrong with these binoculars/ my eyes", they say.
The truth of the matter is that learning to use binoculars is not easy, it can be really difficult at first. Trying to stay focused on the bird, and then bring the tool up to your eyes is not the easiest thing to learn.
So, here come some essential tips for using binoculars for birdwatching:
1) Get the "right" binoculars
Binoculars are designed with different features and specs for different purposes, you need to choose carefully to find the best binoculars for birding. Here is a binoculars buying guide that will help you to understand the features and specs, and an article on choosing binoculars for different outdoor Activities.
Also, checkout our best birding binoculars:
2) Get set up
The first thing to do would be adjusting the eye cups. If you wear glasses or sunglasses, screw the eye cups all they way in; if not, screw them all out.
Then adjust the inter-pupillary distance, i.e., the distance between the two barrels to make it fit your eyes. Pull the two barrels apart as far as they go, bring the binoculars up to your eyes, while grasping the barrels firmly with your hands, and slowly squeeze the barrels closer together until you see only one image (a perfect circle) through both eyes.
When all these set up, rest the binoculars on your brow ridge or the top rim of the frames if you are wearing eye glasses.
3) Get focus
Just like cameras, you always need to focus to get the image sharp and clear.
First use the binocular's central focusing knob to focus both barrels at the same time. Focus knob is usually placed in the center of the binoculars between the two barrels. Look at something stationary in the middle distance and move the wheel to bring the object into focus. Note that the focus is not everlasting - Even the smallest movement can put an object out of focus, so you will need to keep adjusting the focus as you move your eyes from one object to another.
Adjust diopter: diopter ring is usually placed on the right-hand eye piece. It is used to compensate for the differences between your eyes. To adjust the diopter, put a lens cover over the right barrel. Keep both eyes open and adjust the focus knob till you get the clear and sharp image. Next, put the cap on the left barrel and, keeping both eyes open, use the diopter ring to bring your view into sharp focus. It needs adjustment only once.
4) Get the right posture
You may soon get fatigued and your muscle gets sore when using binoculars and looking up for long periods. Finding and using a comfortable yet stable posture when holding binoculars is really important to help with this.
Some people hold binoculars with only their thumbs underneath the barrels. This posture gives little support as as the thumbs act as fulcrums for the binoculars to teeter on. A more solid posture is to cock your wrists so that the binocular barrels rest on the heels of both the thumbs and palms, which create a stable platform to support your binoculars.
When looking straight up, stand with your elbows fully extended; while when looking ahead, you may find it comfortable to tuck the elbows in slightly to the body.
It is always great if you can find something to support your binoculars or arms, a fence or car roof for example. Here is a terrific article by Stephen Tonkin showing some useful skills on supporting your binoculars.
5) Aim your target
It is not easy to locate a subject in the field of view, especially if it is something like a small fast moving bird. There are a few things that you can do to help with this:
- Line up: turn your whole body, including your head and your feet, up to the face of the bird, freeze your body and stay still. It makes spotting more difficult if your body is out of balance.
- Hold your binoculars correctly as we mentioned above. It will make it easier to locate and stay with your target.
- Keep your eyes on the bird as best you can. Don't loose it.
- pull the binoculars up to your eyes. Now if you have followed the previous steps, you will see the bird right in your field of view, without having to look around for it.
This is not as easy as it sounds, it’s best to starting with birds that remain mostly still for long stretches, good examples include herons, hawks, woodpeckers and birds at bird feeders, and you might need to practice on until it all becomes a natural movement and over time you will do it without even thinking about it.