You've got cardinals and robins down. Now learn to identify the Midwest's other 400-plus birds.
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Prothonotary Warbler at Horicon Marsh, Wisconsin yellow bird in tree
Credit: Jason Lindsey

Some migratory birds are best spotted at specific times in specific locations—like the warblers on Lake Erie's southern shores or the cranes flocking to Nebraska's Platte River. Others (like ruby-throated hummingbirds) can be witnessed all season wherever conditions are ideal. Here are beginner-friendly birding basics to help you identify various species in the Midwest, plus how to shop for a trusty pair of binoculars.

Birding 101: How to Start Bird Watching

Don't Go It Alone

Find someone who knows their stuff. Whether it's your neighbor, friend or a hired guide, a more experienced birder will help you identify species and offer advice.

Be an Early Bird

Birds wake up just before dawn and wind down by about 10 a.m. They'll be less active in high winds or inclement weather. Not a morning person? Try late afternoon into dusk.

Keep It Simple

Start by visiting natural areas where birds will be easiest to see, like lakes and rivers, prairies, and other open places. It's harder to spot birds in a dense forest.

Bring a Book

Find a local field guide, so you won't be flipping through pages of look-alikes that don't live nearby. Try National Geographic Backyard Guide to the Birds of North America or Kaufman Field Guide to Nature of the Midwest. 

Snap a Picture

Photographing birds—especially warblers—is tough. But even a blurry pic (or 100) can help you identify an unfamiliar bird later, filling in memory's gaps as you browse a book or ask a friend. 

Download a Bird Watching App

With the Merlin Bird ID app, you can read about birds and get ID help by uploading a photo or letting it listen to songs you're hearing. Available on Google Play and the App Store.

The Best Bird Watching Binoculars

Essential for even casual birders, binoculars take some practice to use—and even to buy! Here's cheat sheet to shopping for a pair.

Choose the Power

Stick with about 8x magnification—any more, and your field of view starts to shrink, which makes it harder to find a bird; any less, and you won't get the up-close view you want.

Check the Lens

An objective lens diameter of 32 or 42 mm is big enough for a good image even in the low light of dawn and dusk. 

Plan for Weather

Fog-proof and waterproof models are great for those mornings when changing temps can cloud lenses.

Top Binoculars Recommendations

What does money buy? Among other things, truer colors and brighter images. The Audubon Society recommends these models: