Whilst cyclists and bird-watchers seem like two very different types of people, the combination of the two activities can bring a fresh perspective to whichever one you associate with most. Bird-watching from the saddle can provide endless hours of entertainment, either solo or as a group.
You might be a cyclist becoming increasingly bored of your once favoured local loop or maybe you’re a bird-watcher who’d like to add new sightings to your ever-growing list of birds. The activities can complement each other with relatively few additions to your current kit list.
Planning a bird-watching bike ride
It might be that your local area is teeming with wildlife and your bike can simply be a form of transport from one bird-watching spot to another. In this case, a pocket bird guide and small notebook could fit into a jersey pocket so you can quickly identify and note down any species of interest along your route. Alternatively, there are bird-watching hides set up on nature reserves where you can see an array of species and spend a little more time. They might even have a café too so you can combine your coffee stop with a spot of bird-watching. In the UK, the Wildlife Trusts highlight reserves on which you can see birds of prey if you’re stuck for location inspiration.
Whichever location you choose will determine the type of bike you need for your ride. Sticking to country lanes or local roads on your road bike might lead you to grassland birds in fields or garden birds in a suburban area. Alternatively, a cross or gravel bike might allow you to explore off the beaten path and see birds, which prefer the quieter spots. Fatter tyres might take you to the beach to see waders and sea birds or along mountain bike trails in the forest to catch glimpses of birds of prey. There is no correct way to bird on your bike so whichever bike you have and the locations you have on offer will be sure to provide good sightings.
You don’t need much for a bird-watching ride but a good pair of binoculars can dramatically increase your chance of identifying a bird or just seeing ones that are slightly further away. There is a great deal of choice depending on your needs and the price can vary as much. A lightweight pair with a magnification of around 8x should be sufficient for your needs.
Recording your birding ride
Some people like to record things, others don’t. Again, there’s no right or wrong way. But if you’re the type of person who loves the statistics of a bike ride, keeping an active Strava account with knowledge of all your personal bests, then this might transfer to birding too. Similarly to cycling, there are myriad ways to record your sightings.
A notebook is the original form of recording birds, with nature journaling being an enjoyable way to record sightings. Instead of having to identify the bird in the field, you can quickly sketch and record useful features such as shape, size, colours, location and the sound it makes. This way you can try to determine what it is once you return home.
If you’re used to carrying a bit more kit on your bike, photographing the birds could be helpful in identifying them (as well as adding a third hobby to your ever-growing list!). There are also a number of mobile phone apps for the purpose of recording birds which can help you identify them if you’re not yet familiar. Additionally, there are apps that can record birdsong and identify them this way, such as BirdNET by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology.
Alternatively, you could not record the birds at all. Oftentimes cycling is used as a way of getting a bit of headspace and enjoying the world around you whilst being in the moment. Birding can complement this by taking you out of your head and offering the chance to tune in to nature. It can be a fun way to explore the world, seeing old routes with fresh eyes as you spin along.
It might go without saying that birding whilst still on your bike may not be the safest way to ride. So make note of benches in leafy areas or enjoy designated bird-watching spots. Be sure to take a puncture repair kit to patch you up should it be needed. If you’re off-roading, be extra prepared should you need to get back to civilisation. But most of all, enjoy yourself. Take a flask and some snacks and be prepared to sit quietly and take in the world around you.