Buying your bird-loving dad a gift related to his niche passion is a super-thoughtful idea, especially since bird-watching remains a pandemic-appropriate activity (at least six feet apart). But, as we’ve learned from searching for gifts for the foodie dad, outdoorsy dad, and golf dad, actually finding the right thing for someone with a very specific hobby can be a tall order. So we asked 11 bird-watching experts — including bird-watching leaders and people who work in birding nonprofits — about the best gifts for bird lovers that you can give to dad (or any other avian enthusiasts in your life).
Binoculars are a bird-watching must, and “every serious birder should have a good second pair, to take a friend birding or to quickly replace a lost or damaged main pair,” according to David Barrett, creator and manager of Manhattan Bird Alert. While he recommends a currently out-of-stock pair from Wingspan Optics for their excellent 10x42 optical quality (at 10x42, they have 10x magnification and 42-millimeter-diameter front lenses), this pair from Nikon have the same magnification and dimensions.
Robert DeCandido — also known as Birding Bob, the leader of inexpensive bird-watching walking tours in Central Park — likes these waterproof Sightron binoculars because he can “wear them all day” without feeling any strain on his neck. They conveniently come with a carrying case, neck strap, and lens cover, too.
In the $200 price range, this pair of binoculars from Athlon Optics have a slightly larger lens diameter and ESP dielectric coating, which Steven John — a birder, dad, and Strategist contributor — says delivers “excellent contrast and color fidelity, helping you see the often-minute patterns and hues on a bird’s feathers.” Plus, unlike other binoculars, this pair from Athlon Optics are better protected against water damage and fogging (normal risks during birding), thanks to their argon-purged chamber.
Three of our experts recommend springing for a pair of Swarovski EL Binoculars. Chase Mendenhall, curator of birds at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History, calls them “the Porsche of optics,” and says they’re ideal for “lowlight warbler watching.” Andrew Farnsworth, a research associate at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, says that “a really good pair of binoculars” like these “will be a game changer for anyone even mildly interested in birds.” Experienced bird-watchers may want higher magnification, but a 7x or 8x pair is usually sufficient — especially with really high-end models like this, according to Farnsworth.
“This inexpensive mount lets you turn your phone and scope or binoculars into a zoom camera,” says Barrett. So-called “digi-scoping” or “digi-binning” is the easy way to take high-quality photos or videos of birds without having to buy a camera and long lens, he explains.
For a three-in-one item, these binoculars come with a phone mount and carrying strap, meaning you can capture images while birding, which John says are comparable to those taken on a DSLR camera. “The optics are gorgeous. The image quality is comparable to the expensive brand like Bushnell,” he adds.
If your dad already has a good pair of binoculars (or two), Farnsworth suggests buying him 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 can be device-intensive, and require frequent use of apps for bird alerts, identification, playback, list-keeping, and communication,” according to Barrett. He recommends buying your dad a portable charger like this to ensure he never runs out of power out in the field.
Birding books, field guides, and games
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. Newsome specifically told our colleagues at the Cut that she refers to Lanham’s article “Nine Rules for the Black Birdwatcher,” but for Lanham’s in-depth exploration of land, nature, and race, consider reading his memoir, The Home Place.
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.
“A field guide is a great gift; they’re available for countless locations around the world, from the obvious to the extremely esoteric,” says Farnsworth. His go-to is the National Geographic guide, but he also likes Paterson’s — his first field guide, which he still has “a soft spot for.” This volume’s heft and detailed illustrations make it a perfect coffee-table book for your birding dad to peruse on his own, or show off to friends.
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 especially timely for Father’s Day: “Dad will be able to study all summer to prep for warblers in their tricky fall plumage.”
Two of our experts also recommend this Sibley field guide, which Mendenhall calls “the quintessential bird guide for all ages and skill levels.” It’s also available as an app that plays the calls of individual birds. “This is the classic field guide, with updated photos and text, to all birds in the New York area — and many more,” adds Barrett.
In lieu of a field guide, wildlife biologist and BlackAFinSTEM co-organizer Danielle Belleny recommends using an app, since it’s not an extra thing to carry around. “Since you already have your phone in hand, you might as well consolidate all your information into one place and use an app.” Belleny says her favorites for all levels are the free Merlin and Audubon apps, which help users identify birds based on descriptions and photos. For mid-advanced birders, she recommends the Sibley Bird Second Edition app, which enables birders “to compare two birds next to each other, which you can’t do in other birding apps.”
“A rainy-day activity for the birding enthusiast,” this board game that Odell recommended allows bird-watching dads to pursue their hobby even when the weather does not. The game’s main objective is to collect the best birds to add to your aviary. 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.
[Editor’s note: The Wingspan board game is currently available for preorder.]
For hummingbird enthusiasts, Mendenhall suggests this elegant “glass feeder that will catch the sun, but be out of reach from ants.”
We also love this sunshine-yellow bird feeder, which is cheery to look at even without birds perched on its arms.
If you’re going to get dad 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, says Belleny. “They have seeds or berries that certain birds like to eat, or leaves that the bird might use for their nest,” she explains, adding, “It’s the idea of building a habitat: You don’t have to go out and find birds; you can bring them to where you are.” 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. In Brooklyn, black-eyed Susans — which are sold as plants at many local nurseries or in seed form online — bloom in the summer and are kno