How to get in to urban bird watching by bike

Birding and biking are a perfect pair. Riding your bike puts you out in nature more and typically takes you to places you otherwise wouldn’t be driving in a car, like wooded bike paths or quiet back neighborhood roads. You have a 360 view of your outside surroundings and can easily stop on your commute to observe something new or exciting you see. As a low key birder myself, I assure you that tapping into that child-like joy of connecting with nature through bird watching by bike in your area doesn’t take a ton of time or resources and even the most novices of novices can start!

Before I get into the hows of bird watching by bike, let’s get into the what of what you’ll need. You honestly don’t need anything to just look at birds and marvel. But, if you’re looking for a little extra something, having a simple guide and a basic set of binoculars won’t hurt.

Bird watching by bike gear recommendation #1: A bird guide

I have no one favorite guide but I have found that I prefer guides with drawn pictures and not actual photographs. I have a handful of various bird guides (it’s useful to have spares when leading groups of kiddos on excursions), all of which I found thrifting. Your local library is sure to have some good guides on hand too! While not necessary, I find a guide helpful for IDing birds so I don’t refer to that all as “that squawky orange one” or “that cute chirpy yellow one”. For my fellow east coasters, I have found the Golden Eastern Birds guide illustrated by James Coe to be super simple and easy for both adults and children to use. It’s out of print but easy enough to find used on the cheap.

Bird watching by bike gear recommendation #2: Some binoculars

You’ll be amazed at how much all birds kinda look alike from a distance. Once you are able to see them up close with a good set of binocs, you’ll notice so many more different species! For a while, I used a small $18 set and those were better then just using my bare eyes. I now have a beefier set of Nikon binoculars (a generous birthday present from a loving partner!) that I tend to keep strapped across my chest when I got out for a ride in the wild and plan on stopping to see some birds.

If you are visiting a state or federal park to do some bird watching by bike, ask the ranger station if they have gear like binoculars or spotting scopes on tripods available to rent. This will allow you to enjoy the benefits of some good specs on the cheap!

When on my EdgeRunner, I tend to keep this gear in my front PorterPack for easy access. A front basket or DIY handlebar binocular holders are another great way to keep your birding gear easily accessible.

bird watching by bike
Riding with my binoculars ready to use, slung over my chest.

Getting started with bird watching by bike

I’d say the first step – as cheesy as this may sound – is to simply stop to connect more with your immediate natural surroundings, as sterile or developed as they might otherwise appear. What’s hopping around in the tree while you’re stopped at that red light? Who is that flying over the parking lot at your kiddo’s school while you wait for the final bell to ring? What’s making that cute little chirping noise as you load groceries up on the bike? Simply tuning in a little bit more can really help you to see that there is tons of wild life co-inhabiting with you, available for viewing right before your eyes.

For me, having my bird ID guide and binoculars in my front basket makes bird viewing where ever I ride even easier. If we are riding down a quite neighborhood road on the way to pottery class and see a mystery bird, my kiddo and I can quickly pull over to investigate. Stopping to observe urban wildlife makes our commutes so much more interesting.

These few examples of urban wildlife observing are some of my favorite reminders that wildness is all around me. At our nearest grocery store, there is an osprey nest on a lamp post in the back of the parking lot that we love to observe throughout the season. Over the course of a few months, we get a little window into the world of the development of a little osprey family every time we ride our bikes to the store and we love to update one another. “The osprey’s are back!” or “The babies have hatched – they are so big and fuzzy!” On another ride just a few days ago, I stopped at the hardware store to pick up some lumber and much to my surprise, the trees in the parking lot (what I later IDed when I got home as yaupon hollies) were full of hundreds of hungry and very talkative cedar waxwings. Seeing and hearing all those brightly colored birds made my day! I guarantee these exciting and surprising wildlife vignettes are happening in your city too.

Going the extra mile

If you have a little extra time on your hands and you can find time to bird outside of commuting and running errands, there are times and places that will guarantee more bird sightings.

bird watching by bike
From a recent ride out into the national forest near some springs to bird at dusk.

The best time for song bird watching will be in the early morning when birds are up and trying to fill their hungry bellies. Early evening, when they try to fill up with a meal right before settling down into their nests is another great time to observe. As for where, I like to seek out water sources – even if it’s in the middle of your city or town. A creek, a lake, a spring, a retention pond, a park or yard with a bird bath. One of my favorite birding spots in my city is a public trail that runs along a city storm drainage ditch. It runs parallel to a congested arterial road but is tucked behind businesses and a dense tree line so I feel like I’m in an urban oasis. I’ve spotted orioles, robins, warblers, limpkins (a threatened species here in Florida), herons, egrets, geese, owls, buffleheads, wood ducks, anhingas, and cormorants, just to name a few. To imagine all this awesome wildlife car commuters are missing out on!

You can also find birding hot spots in your town with the crowd sources eBird data base here. eBird not only shows you where people are birding in your town but it shows you what people are reporting seeing so you know who to look for.

With these super basic bird watching by bike tips and a set of open and alert eyes, you too can start connecting more with the feathered friends in your area with the help of your ride.