Bird Watching Safety Tips

Birding can be a fascinating and rewarding way to spend your time and following basic safety tips can enhance your bird watching experiences.

Tip #1: Visitor's Centers / Ranger Stations

Stop by the visitor's center and/or ranger station for safety tips specific to the park, refuge, or wilderness area you will be visiting. Maps of the area are sometimes available which indicate bird populations, as well as, safety concerns for that area. Take the telephone number of the ranger with you in-case you have questions or find yourself in need of assistance.

Tip #2: Give the Birds Space

If a nesting birds flys off or circles you screaming, you are too close to their nest. This is potentially dangerous for the baby birds, as unattended nestlings can die from exposure to heat, cold, and wet weather, or be prey to other animals.

Tip #3: Watch for Wildlife

Many bird watching sites are also home to large animals. Depending upon the location, you may find alligators, crocidiles, bears, large cats, moose, bison, elk, deer, buffalo, and other potentionally dangerous animals. Research the area before you go. Find out what animals might be present, what constitutes a "safe distance" from each animal and what actions may be seen by those animals as acts of aggression. Crouching may be seen by some animals as an act of aggression i.e you are looking for a fight, while others may see this as backing off and will move on. Being positioned between a female animal and her offspring is unwise as the mother will want to protect her babies.

Tip #4: Bug Bites

Mosquitos, bees, wasps, and other bugs can bite or sting causing itching, pain, and/or swelling. Mosquitos can carry the West Nile virus and some people are allergic to stings which can range from mild irritation to life threating closing of the throat. Use mosquito repellent when appropriate, and check the label for age restrictions. Check with your medical professional, in advance, for advice on anti-histamines and emergency procedures should a sting cause serious consequences.

Tip #5: Hunting Season

Birds are hunted in some areas of the country. Avoid being a victim of a hunting accident. Stay out of designated hunting areas during hunting season. Ask the local ranger for more information.

Tip #6: Poison Ivy, Poison Oak, Poison Sumak – Leaves of Three, Let them Be!

Poison ivy and poison oak have three leaves per cluster, while poison sumac has 7 to 13 leaves on a branch. Urushiol oil on these plants can cause an allergic rash which usually appears within 24 - 72 hours. Small bumps, then blisters that may crust or ooze are symptoms of the rash. Wash your skin (and clothing) to remove the oil as soon as possible after contact with these plants. Seek medical treatment of the rash is severe or covers a large area of the body.

Tip #7: Scorpions and Snakes

Scorpion bites and snake bites are potential lethal. Do not turn over large rocks, or stick your hands or feet into rock formations, tree logs, brush, or other enclosed areas.

Tip #8: Land Sinking Beneath Your Feet

Marshes and wetlands are not solid ground. Use a walking stick to check the soil conditions before walking or setting up your tripod, tent, or other equipment.

Tip #9: Hiking

Hike with a friend and let someone at home know where you are going and when to expect you home. Some wilderness areas require that you register at the ranger station and/or obtain a permit or pass. Take food, water, a first-aid kit, and extra layers of clothing. Evening and nighttime temperatures can be considerably colder than daytime temperatures.

Tip #10: Camping

Bears (and other animals) love to eat human food! When camping, especially in bear country, keep your camp clean and your unused food in approved containers. To not store ANY food, deodorant, soap, or sunscreens in your tent or sleeping bags. Use bear boxes when available, as larger bears can damage a vehicle when in search of food.

Tip #11: Camp Fires

Check fire regulations for the specific area and fire conditions. Camp fires can range from open fires, to fire pits only, to camp stoves, to no fires depending upon the location and/or the season. Fires can spread quickly in the forest and smoldering ash can re-ignite. Follow all fire regulations, never leave a fire unattended, and make sure the fire is out completely before going to sleep or leaving the area. Gathering wood is prohibited in some locations.

Tip #12: Bring a Jacket

Wherever your birding adventures take you, remember to bring a jacket even on the hottest days. If you happen to find yourself lost in the woods at nightfall, warm clothing can save your life.

Need a warm jacket?

Next: Use our Bird Watching Equipment List Tool to build a custom list of basic birding equipment in .pdf format.