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Lockdown got you down?

Start a new hobby by staring out the window

Getting frustrated not being able to go anywhere? In South Africa it has now been nearly 5 weeks since lockdown started. I am sure that many or maybe even most of us are getting rather frustrated with being stuck at home.

Now is actually the perfect time to start a new hobby that will get you closer to nature and that you can carry on doing long after lockdown is over.

What is that you might ask? – Well the answer is staring out of the window and looking at the birds– more than 50 million people people worldwide can’t all be wrong.

So why look at birds?

They are fascinating creatures, that incidentally descended form dinosaurs. With more than 10 000 species and an estimated 40-60 individual birds per person.They are the only wild animals that are always around- and this makes them the most accessible animals to observe in nature.

Birds are a lot like people with a wide range of cultures, rituals and personalities. Just like us, ome like to stay near to home, while others are world travellers. Some are very specific about where they live and never venture further than the small territory that they make in your backyard.  Others, like to travel warmer climates in the winter, migrating to many different parts of the world . The Arctic tern holds the record for the longest ever migration. An individual flew a distance equal to twice around the world! Their average round trip is 90 000 km!

Arctic Tern holds the record for the longest journey ever taken!

Back to the birds in your backyard.  It is really easy to get to know these neighbours, with a little bit of close observation, you will get to know species and individuals really well. 

I heard it is expensive to do birdwatching

The birders will tell you that you need fancy equipment like a bird field guide and a good pair of binoculars- while this is true when you decide that birdwatching is the hobby for you.  It is quite possible to get started without these.

You could choose to merely observe behaviour and not worry about the bird’s name. But just as we like to know the names of those around us, you will at some point want to know the names of the birds that you are looking at.

Start with a free version of the Apps

For starters you could consider trying out the “lite” version of any number of birding apps. These apps usually have the more common birds on them, and will likely have information and the calls of birds in your garden.

You can upgrade to a paid version later if you want.  The great thing about the free versions is that you also get to try a few and decide which one ‘feels’ right for you.

So the big question is- “Where do I start?”

A good starting point, is to take your pen and notebook and write down everything that you know by looking at the bird.

If you have your phone or camera handy and the bird is not too far away, try taking a few photos of it- because it is not likely to hang around for very long. Photographs are more reliable than memory!

Then start going through the 8-step proven formula for identifying birds:

  1. Bird Family
  2. Size
  3. Bill
  4. Legs & Feet
  5. Plumage & Markings
  6. Eye colour
  7. Behaviour
  8. Habitat

Here are 8 questions to ask yourself:

  1. Do I know which family it belongs to?
  • Is it a crow, dove or sparrow??

2. How big is it?

  • Is it a small, medium or large bird?

3. What does it’s bill look like?

  • Is it short and stubby, is it long and slender?
  • Does it have a sharp point?
  • What could type of food would it be able to eat with that bill?

4. Now take a closer look at the legs and feet

  • What colour are the legs?
  • Are they short, long, thick, thin?
  • What about the feet?
  • -Are the toes pointing backwards or forwards?
  • Are they short, long, thick? Do they have sharp claws?

Do they look powerful or dainty?

5. Now you can finally look at colour

  • Look at the overall colours-
  • Are there any very distinctive marks?
  • Like a stripe on the eyebrow?
  • A flash of white when it flies?
  • Does the tail have long or short feathers?
  • A crest on it’s head?
  • What makes this bird’s plumage stand out form the rest?

By now you should have a pretty good idea of the make-up of your bird.

If you still don’t have enough information:

6. Try to get a closer look at the eyes

  • What colour are they?
  • Are they big or small?
  • Do they have any features that stand out?

7. What is the bird doing?

  • Take a close look at it’s behaviour, this will give you more clues to the bird that you are looking at
  • Is it hopping, perching, swooping, perching then swooping?

8. Finally- where is it?

  • Is it on the lawn?
  • In the trees?
  • In a well-wooded area of your garden?
  • Near water?

When you have all of this information gathered -it is best to write or dictate all of this before even trying to figure out what it is.

Now you can work out what it is- either using your field guide, or the app that you just downloaded, or if you managed to get a photograph a local birding group can help, or try i-spot.

Let us know if this has helped in the comments section

Once you have this one, try others.  Eventually it will be easy for you- and it is hard to describe the feeling of accomplishment when you finally figure out what that #$%^ bird is!

Below are some free and paid downloadable bird identification resources to get you started.

Click on the icon to go to each in the Google play store


  • We have not personally tested these, but are going on what we have read from reviews.
  • The best advice we can give is to try out a few and see what works for you.
  • The free versions are a good place to go if you are just starting out and not sure if you want to invest in an app just yet.

The Sasol e.Birds of Southern Africa is an interactive version of the best-selling Sasol Birds of Southern Africa field guide. This application has specific features that will enhance your birding experience You can download a free sample version of the app to see how it works before you buy it

Roberts Bird Guide 2 The FIELD GUIDE displays the full pages of the book for instant comparison and identification. Search the family list or swipe the pages for a bird, play the sound, view the distribution, add to your list, view and compare similar birds, open the BIRD PAGE for text and photographs, or open the BIRD GUIDE list at the selected bird.

Merlin Bird ID by Cornell Lab. Free, instant bird ID help for 6,000+ birds for North and South America, Europe, Asia, and Australia. Answer the simple questions about a bird you are trying ot identify, and Merlin will come up with a lost of possible matches

The Audubon Bird Guide is a free and complete field guide to over 800 species of North American birds, right in your pocket. Built for all experience levels, it will help you identify the birds around you, keep track of the birds you’ve seen, and get outside to find new birds near you.

NatureAi Bird ID: South African Garden Birds. They say”Birding has never been easier or more accessible for new and beginner birders. Through our Artificial Intelligence algorithms we take the frustration and confusion out of trying to identify bird species to ensure that your birding experience as a new birder is nothing but pure joy – as it was meant to be.”

GoBird- Guide to nearby birds. They say: “Discover and identify birds around you, for free, anywhere in the world

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