Yunnan Bird Watching Tips for Beginners

Yunnan Province is a huge and colourful province that borders Guangxi, Guizhou, Sichuan and Tibet. Due to varied terrain and enough sunshine & rainfall, Yunnan boasts half of China’s plants and animal species. The richest province for birds in China with over 770 species recorded including nearly 40 of the Chinese endemics and many species with ranges restricted to Yunnan, northern Myanmar and northeastern India. The best season for birds in Yunnan is during the northern winter, especially from December to January, when migratory birds come from further north. Late April to early May are the best seasons for many forest species. Due to the wide range of altitude, winter weather conditions vary widely from cold and wet, including snow, to hot and sunny. Are you curious about birding but don’t know how to get involved? This page has several Tips for bird watching that will help get you started.

Tip 1: Get Some Binoculars

Nothing can ruin the excitement of a birding trip than seeing birds BUT not being able to observe their interesting behavior, see their beautiful plumage or identify the species. Look for binoculars that are waterproof, focus easily, and have at least 8x magnification and a 30 to 42mm front lens (which dictates the light gathering capability). So when you see “8×32” or “10×42,” those will work well. There are some fantastic birding binoculars available with a price tag under $300 (i.e., Nikon Monarch 5) and even as low as $125 (Celestron Nature DX). You can borrow or buy a pair.

Tip 2: Get a Bird Guide

Look through the bird guide before you go out for the first time. Read some fantastic bird watching books, magazines and publications available. Some of the more popular bird guides are Sibley, National Geographic and Peterson. Or you can read and follow some birding blogs. Downloading an app on your smart photo is also helpful. iBird is a good start, which will give you a chance to learn your birds with their many fun features. Don’t try to memorize all the birds, just learn about bird families such as swallows, raptors, warblers, etc. 

Tip 3: Keep Your Eye on the Bird

When you find a bird, do not immediately try to identify it by turning over the pages of the field guide. Every moment of watching time is precious. Keep your eyes fixed on the bird and study it – absorbing details of its markings, movements, songs, feeding habits and size. You may want to take notes or quickly sketch out what caught your attention. But don’t pay too much attention to your notes, try to maximize the time you have the bird in view, because this is the time you study it, you don’t know how long it will last before the bird disappears, out of sight. 

Tips 4: Listen for Calls and Song

Listening out for birds is easy, but it’s also easy to forget. The odds are, if you don’t pay attention, you won’t remember the song and you’ll miss out on one of the best bird identification tools there is. The good news is that you can listen to birds and watch them — it’s easy to do both. Pay attention to bill’s movements as you hear the call, just to make sure you associate the right call with the bird you’re trying to identify.

Tips 5: Estimate General Size and Shape

Bird profiles, that is, their approximate size and shape, usually give you a lot of clues when you put it into the right bird family. So, start by evaluating the bird’s overall appearance. How big is the bird? It is easiest to estimate the size of birds than any known species. For example, is the bird you observed the size of a sparrow? Robin? A pigeon? A crow? Turkey? From the point of view of contour, try to understand its overall body shape. Did it walk freely upright, or was it unstable and clumsy on land?

Tips 6: Make Note of Facial Markings and Bill Characteristics

After determining its general size and shape, you can begin to pay attention to details. Let’s start at the head. Look for distinctive stripes and patches of color, including coronal stripes, eyeliner, nape color, eyeliner, or circles.Does it have a black hood on its head?Did its feathers form a crown on its head?Also pay attention to the color and shape of the beak.How far is the beak from the bird’s head?Is it straight or curved, tapered or flat?

Tips 7: Look for Wing Bars and Tail Shape

Next look for details about the bird’s body, wings and tail. When a bird is still or flying, pay attention to the stripes, patches, and markings on its wings. What color is its back and abdomen? How long is its tail relative to the bird’s body? How does it catch its tail? Is its tail bifurcated, square or round?

Tips 8: Observe Leg Color and Length

Now study the legs of the birds. Does this bird have long or short legs? What colour are its legs? If you can catch a glimpse of its feet, try to determine if they are webbed or have claws. Some birds even have a different arrangement of toes than others, and if you’re lucky enough to get a closer look, see how many of their toes are forward or backward.

Tips 9: Study Movement and Flight Patterns

Watch the way a bird walks, how it grabs its tail, or how it jumps from branch to branch. If it flies away, observe its flight pattern. Does it dive up and down in a gentle arc with each flap of its wings, or does it glide slowly and steadily? 

Tips 10: Determine Feeding Habits

If you can, try to determine what the bird is eating or how it is eating. Does it stick to tree trunks and dig holes in bark for insects? Or it will forage on your lawn, tilting its head to watch for insects scurrying from blade to blade. Can its beak swing in the water near the pond?

Tips 11: Describe Habitat, Region, and Climate

Note the bird’s habitat. You can do this even if the bird flies away, so save this step for last. Did you find this bird in the marsh or in the forest? Do you live in a city or on a farm? Each bird has a typical habitat area, and when you observe a bird, writing down the area you are in narrates the likelihood that you will try to identify the bird. In addition, the migration and species composition of birds in an area varies with the seasons, so make a note of the time of year (or the specific date you observe birds).

Tips 12: Record Your Observations

After observing the bird, write down your observations for future reference. Writing down anything you notice, from tagging to behavior, can help you later when you sit down with a field guide to identify the species. Also, note the location, the date, the time of day.

Keep Reading:

Travel Tips to Better Birding in Yunnan
Travel Tips for Birding Travelers in Yunnan
Top Places to Enjoy Wild Birds as Your Yunnan Birding Tour in Winter