elderly man seeks birds, will love unconditionally. must not freak out children.
July 1, 2010 9:52 AM   Subscribe

Bird-watching books and gadgets for a bird-loving (but novice) 70 year old man?

I'd like to get my dad something related to birds for his upcoming 70th birthday. He doesn't know much about birds, except that he loves them and is fascinated by them, and wishes he had an aviary in our old house. I'm kind of glad he didn't because I kind have an (ir)rational fear of birds, but he loves them, so I'd like to get him something that makes him happy.

We recently visited a nature center in NY, where enjoyed looking at identifying posters of birds, listened to sample songs of their calls, and had a bazillion and one questions for the staff members about their migratory habits, feeding, etc.

He has a nice backyard that is woodsy, and loves to sit outside and look at the birds, but that's about the extent of his knowledge. What can I get him that can make this evolve into more of a hobby for him? Books? CD's? Binoculars? A bird feeder? He lives in the Washington DC area, if that will help as far as types of birds and bird activity. What do you recommend that would be good for a man of his age (he's pretty active for 70), and for someone with little to no knowledge (but infinite love) of birds? Price range, max $150ish?
posted by raztaj to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (20 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
I'd recommend a bird feeder (and possibly the post to hang it on), and the National Geographic Field Guide to Birds of North America. There are a lot of great bird field guides, but that one isn't heavy like Sibley. If you still have money, binocs are great for even bird feeder birding.
posted by ldthomps at 9:58 AM on July 1, 2010

If he doesn't have a good pair of binoculars, he needs binoculars. At that price range, I might suggest Eagle Optics. My father, a retired professional ornithologist, has a pair that he loves.
posted by mcstayinskool at 10:04 AM on July 1, 2010

I've liked the Stokes' approach to birding. They're interested in the bird behavior more than the bird identification and their books focus on birds you'd be likely to see around your backyard.

The Audubon Society has a Washington DC chapter and you could get him membership or sign him up for a birding walk. There are other chapters nearby (MD for instance).

And here's one more resource.
posted by sciencegeek at 10:06 AM on July 1, 2010

If he has an iphone or an itouch there are a few bird guide apps (pics, description and bird call, basically) you can download.
posted by mandymanwasregistered at 10:06 AM on July 1, 2010 [1 favorite]

Help him find a lifelist to start filling out.
posted by Think_Long at 10:07 AM on July 1, 2010 [1 favorite]

Audubon magazine is good. Also, Birds and Blooms magazine is an easy and enjoyable browse - it's super cheesy, but good information on backyard gardening and birding.
posted by Think_Long at 10:08 AM on July 1, 2010

For the bird guide, you might want to get one that is more specific to the DC area/Northeastern US -- it will be easier to use and possibly have more info on the birds he is likely to see. As a Bostonian, I find myself most often consulting my Birds of Massachusetts guide. You could get the North America guide too, since its fun to know about birds all over the place. A couple guides and some feeders (they make them specific for different birds -- maybe one for big seeds, one for smaller birds, and a hummingbird feeder) would make a great package and could fall within your budget.
posted by cubby at 10:10 AM on July 1, 2010

Book him a hotel room in Cape May next fall and give him a gift card to use for gas. It's not that far from DC, and it's one of the premier bird watching spots on the East Coast.
posted by fixedgear at 10:14 AM on July 1, 2010

There are probably a combination of things that he'd like particularly if he has a habitat that is condusive to birds. On the low end of the scale there are simple window feeders that are really enjoyable esp if you're sitting in the house just hanging out. They can be a little messy [seed gets all over the ground] but allows maximum visibility for minimal effort. Here are some photos from the one I have. Further on you can get pole-mounted feeders, hummingbird feeders and feeders for specific types of birds. I have a finch feeder which is just a sack that holds thistle seeds. Depending on the squirrel population this may be awesome or may be a pain as he's fighting squirrels constantly. Good binoculars are a good idea as well.

Other things that I've gotten for the people into birds in a low key way in my life include the Complete Guide to Bird Feeding or other introductory books including some sort of a bird guide which includes information on their ranges and habitats [there's an AskMe thread where people suggest good ones]. There are also some magazines I like including Birds and Blooms [if he's also into flowers/gardening] or a membership to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology where you get a Living Bird magazine subscription [plus they have an awesome website].

I'd also suggest that youd dad try a variety of seed types and you could get him a few buckets for storage and a feeder filler (or make it yourself) which can make everything a lot easier to manage. And really the best thing is being someone who supports and encourages his hobby if it turns out this is something he's into. Both my parents are bird hobbyists and it's a pleasant way to have conversations with them, which birds are new, which birds are having babies, that sort of thing. You don't have to be a super duper birder to find this sort of thing really enjoyable
posted by jessamyn at 10:18 AM on July 1, 2010

A bird bath. Nothing attracts birds faster than fresh water. If you can figure out a way to make the water run, that would be even better.
2nding the recommendation of Eagle optics -- best pair of binoculars I've ever had.
Feeders are great too, but only for some species. I only ever used black sunflower seeds, as generic songbird mixes have a lot of not so great filler.
If there is a Wild Birds Unlimited in your area, you should check them out. They helped me a lot when I first got into backyard bird-watching.
posted by Gilbert at 10:32 AM on July 1, 2010

Nothing will add more to his enjoyment than a couple of good bird feeders. Get feeders that work well with black oil sunflower seed. Sunflower attracts so many species of birds. He may want to get a thistle feeder and a hummingbird feeder too. I love to watch the hummers.

On feeders you can get started with low cost ones and if interest and action takes off buy higher quality later. Depending on his location squirrels can be a nuisance tearing up feeders. A birdbath is an excellent idea too.

What came next for me was taking photos of them. Getting a good camera for birding can get expensive. It may be something he will want to do down the road. My Dad got me started in bird feeding. Now it is my most frequent hobby.
posted by nogero at 10:56 AM on July 1, 2010

I prefer Sibley to the NatGeo guide, and there's an East Coast version. I second Eagle Optics for binos. For binos, a 7x or 8x is probably a good place to start, and Eagle Optics should have something great in that price range.
posted by gingerbeer at 11:01 AM on July 1, 2010

If Dad has an iphone, I'd recommend iBird Pro. It's a complete bird guide that I always have with me. For a novice, I'd also recommend a book like this one. It features only birds I'm likely to see here and it's organized by color (if the bird is mostly blue, turn to the blue section) rather than by "This is the Corvid family!" Uh, great. What's a corvid?
posted by workerant at 11:18 AM on July 1, 2010

If he has a computer, Thayer birding software is kewl. Standard Idiot's Guide to Birdwatching is quite interesting for a novice, and here it is in a free download that you'll need Linux to open. I'd say go for the binocs and an offer to help him set up his yard to attract birds -- a feeder or feeding platform and water. Seconding that the water will REALLY attract them like crazy in the heat of summer and if you want to get fancy later, it'll attract them in winter if you keep the water from freezing.
posted by Listener at 11:35 AM on July 1, 2010

Response by poster: These are all great ideas! Despite my own mild bird phobia, I'm excited about these suggestions for my dad. Thanks, people!

A couple of questions: are there any retailers (besides Amazon) that would be good to send a group of goodies (book + feeder, or possibly small birdbath). I'll be there for his bday bash in person, but will need to fly - so buying online would be great. There are hummingbirds in the woods around his place. My siblings and I got him a hummingbird feeder many many years ago when we were kids, but I think it was cheaply made and didn't last long. His area is prone to stubborn squirrels. Any suggestions for things that deter their presence?
posted by raztaj at 11:57 AM on July 1, 2010

I got my dad Andrew Zuckerman's Bird book (mefi post) for Christmas. It's beautiful.

Does if your dad uses binoculars for any length of time, an over-the-shoulders binocular harness is a lot more comfortable than having them hang from the neck.
posted by hydrophonic at 12:28 PM on July 1, 2010

My sweetie gave me the "Backyard Birdsong Guide". We consult it all the time! The book contains a player with recordings of the songs of each of the birds listed. The link is for eastern & central North America; choose the appropriate region.
posted by TruncatedTiller at 12:35 PM on July 1, 2010

As an amateur birder myself, I looooove my National Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Birds. Lots of full color pictures broken up into sections like wading birds, perching birds, etc. that really help ID birds you are not familiar with.

If he has a computer, you could also bookmark WhatBird and Cornell's All About Birds sites for him. Both are excellent free bird ID resources and a contain a wealth of information.

If he's ever in NY again and he hasn't already, I highly recommend a visit to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and their bird sanctuary Sapsucker Woods. They have amazing high powered scopes he can use and binoculars they loan out, and the sanctuary is full of birds! He'll totally geek out :)
posted by geeky at 1:27 PM on July 1, 2010

Oh, and for the squirrels - nothing I've found is a surefire deterrent. Use safflower seeds instead of sunflower in the feeders. Squirrels don't like those quite as much, but they can and will empty a sunflower feeder in under an hour. If they squirrels become too much of a pest, he can upgrade to a squirrel "proof" feeder, like the Yankee Flipper. It literally flings the squirrels off!

I'm afraid I don't have any advice for keeping squirrels out of hummingbird feeders. My squirrels ignore the hummingbird feeder in favor of the seed feeders, but I do have a pesky raccoon that regularly disassembles and breaks my hummingbird feeder at night. I've found the only solution is to bring the feeder inside at night.
posted by geeky at 1:31 PM on July 1, 2010

Seconding binoculars or a spotting scope of some kind. It make the identification game much for fun.

I got some Alpen Optics (scroll down, the top ones are scary expensive) which I really like. They have the ability to do really short focal lengths (less than eight feet) so even if you are fairly near the bird, you can still use the binocs to get really close to it.
posted by quin at 3:10 PM on July 1, 2010

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