Even if they’re just a casual Flaco fan who now carries a pair of binoculars on every Central Park stroll, the popularity of birding means that you very likely have an avian enthusiast in your life to buy for. As an excited newcomer to this wholesome hobby myself, I’ve found that tapping into the expert knowledge of longtime birders is key — especially when it comes to picking out a pair of ’nocs, as well as investing in other gadgets, books, and apps that make it easier to spot feathered friends. When putting together this gift guide for birders of all levels, I asked a dozen birders across New York State and beyond about what they’d recommend, from scopes to field guides to Audubon Society memberships. And if you’re buying for the birder who already has everything, there are a few bird-themed gift ideas for when they’re at home as opposed to out exploring the Ramble.
While they’re not quite as powerful as other pairs on this list, I find my Nocs to be highly compatible with the chaotic city-birder lifestyle. They’re waterproof, rubber-coated, and tote-bag-tossable — and the durability also makes them an ideal gift for nature-loving kids.
This slightly more expenisve pair of compact binoculars is also ideal for young birders because they have a hinge mechanism that can close in at a tight interpupillary distance — that’s the gap between your two eyes. “In other words, they’re adaptable to small faces but will suit larger ones too,” explain John and Natalie White, co-founders of the birdwatching app Birda.
For a waterproof entry-level option that’s still lightweight, Robert DeCandido — also known as Birding Bob, the leader of inexpensive bird-watching walking tours in Central Park — likes this Sightron pair that he can “wear all day” without feeling any strain on his neck.
In the $200 price range, this pair of binoculars from Athlon Optics have a slightly larger lens diameter and ESP dielectric coating, which delivers excellent contrast and color fidelity, helping you see the patterns and hues on a bird’s feathers. They’re also well protected against water damage and fogging, since their chambers are filled with water-repelling argon.
A game changer for anybody who likes to look at birds — especially in low light — this pair of Swarovski EL binoculars would make for a magnificent gift. Experienced bird-watchers may want higher magnification, but a 7x or 8x pair is usually sufficient, especially with really high-end models like this.
If your birder already has a beloved pair of binoculars, you can still upgrade their birdwatching experience with a sturdy new strap. The Whites recommend this harness one for comfort and practicality.
Scopes and other gadgets
This inexpensive mount lets your birder turn their phone and scope or binoculars into a zoom camera. So-called “digi-scoping” or “digi-binning” is the easy way to take high-quality photos or videos of birds without having to buy an expensive stand-alone camera and long lens.
If the birder on your list already has a good pair of binoculars (or two), consider buying them a spotting scope, which is basically a tiny telescope that offers much greater magnification. We like this easy-to-carry spotting scope from best-rated telescope brand Celestron, which comes in different styles.
Birding books and field guides
For birders of color, Corina Newsome — who co-organized Black Birders Week to celebrate black birders and nature explorers in the wake of Ahmaud Arbery’s murder and Christian Cooper’s wrongful harassment by a white woman in Central Park while he was birding — recommends reading the writing of Dr. J. Drew Lanham, an author, poet, and wildlife biologist.
Lanham is also an award-nominated poet, and his first collection of poems, Sparrow Envy, explores similar themes of birds, the wild, and race, through the medium of poetry.
This book of pigeon photography is a “gorgeous paean to New York City’s ubiquitous avian inhabitant,” says Candice Odell of the Wild Bird Fund. Its full-color pages offer a rich exploration of the history (and beauty) of the city’s unofficial (and often underappreciated) bird.
Dennis W. Hrehowsik, president of the Brooklyn Bird Club, recommends the warbler guide, which comes in the form of a book, an app, and a trifold laminated document. Adams agrees, noting the “essential” guide is one that folks can “study throughout the year to prep for warblers in their tricky fall plumage.”
Sibley’s field guide is perhaps the quintessential bird guide for all ages and skill levels. It’s also available as an app that plays the calls of individual birds.
And here’s the app version, which lets birders “compare two birds next to each other, which you can’t do in other birding apps” — a feature that’s well worth the $20.
While field guides and online birding resources are great for discovering when and where to find birds, it can sometimes be tough to translate that information into birding success when visiting a location for the first time. So here’s a book of birding locations in New York State that’ll help your birder find the best hot spots.
For New York–based birders with a special interest in conservation, this dramatic account of how the Empire State was a main stage for the astonishing comebacks of the iconic Bald Eagle and Peregrine Falcon from the brink of extinction in the 20th century will be a thrilling read. The book also describes ongoing efforts to save birds still at risk.
Having a bird feeder helps beginner birders practice with their binoculars or just enjoy birds with their own eyes. Starting with an open-platform feeder like this is ideal because birds of any size can land on it.
When we spoke to six birders about the best birdhouses for attracting birds to their backyards, all of them agreed that decorative birdhouses are actually less inviting to birds than a sturdy wooden option — like this cedar model, which specifically attracts bluebirds.
For hummingbird enthusiasts, Mendenhall suggests an elegant hanging glass feeder that will catch the sun but be out of reach from ants. We like the rainbow-speckled design on this recycled-glass one.
If you’re going to gift a feeder, consider adding in some seed to attract a variety of species, like this best-rated pick from Wager’s which one reviewer says attracts about 20 birds at a time.
Growing native plants is another way to attract birds to your garden. These seeds are ideal for Brooklyn, but since native plants differ by area, Belleny recommends using Audubon’s Native Plant Database, which allows you to find plants by ZIP code and specifies which birds they attract.
If you don’t want to spend money or you have someone on your list whose love language is quality time, try making a DIY, upcycled bird feeder or birdbath. An upturned terra-cotta planter is all you need for a DIY birdbath, or a plastic bottle can also serve as a bird feeder.
One of these wearable hummingbird feeders was sent to the Strategist office recently, and we were instantly delighted by both its concept and execution. As seen on Shark Tank, the HummViewer is a clear face shield with three nectar feeding tubes attached to its exterior, allowing the viewer to attract up to three new feathered friends and observe them up close as they hover.
Bird-watching memberships and subscriptions
If the bird lover on your list is also a coffee lover, then a subscription to Birds and Beans is the perfect way to combine their hobbies. Birds and Beans’s Smithsonian Bird-Friendly Coffee supports traditional shade-grown, organic coffee farms, which maintain the forest canopy and provide critical habitat for birds.
Bird nerd swag also makes for a fun gift too. These patches can be stitched to your birder’s binocular harness.
Clothing and games
Here’s a rainy-day activity for the birding enthusiast. It’s suitable for one to five players, takes about an hour to play, and is a favorite among birders for its attention to detail and lovely illustrations.
For the birding enthusiast who prefers puzzles to games, this 1,000-piecer features a National Geographic map of bird migration patterns across North and South America.
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