What to Wear Out Birding

Birders in the Field

Phillip Capper / Flick / CC by 2.0

Birders can dress in any clothes they wish and they will still see birds, but choosing the right birding apparel can actually help you see more birds more easily. Exactly what to wear out birding will vary depending on the season and habitat, and savvy birders plan their field wardrobe carefully to maximize their birding.

Choosing What to Wear Out Birding

There are several factors to consider when you are choosing birding clothes.

  • Comfort: First and foremost, clothing to go birding in should be comfortable, which will encourage you to stay in the field longer. Non-restrictive garments in lightweight fabrics are often preferred, and dressing in layers allows for changing temperatures throughout the day without interrupting the birding. Clothes should be well worn in so there will be no chafing or blisters.
  • Function: Functional clothing is a must in any birder's wardrobe. Cargo pants with deep pockets to hold a notebook or field guide are helpful, and belt loops can hold other tools. Specialized birding vests are popular and come with a wide range of pockets to hold gear instead of a field bag. Shoes should have good ankle support and adequate tread for different walking conditions.
  • Color: Good birders know to wear clothing that will blend in to the habitat they will be exploring and they choose camouflaged colors or subdued shades of brown, green, and gray. Avoid bright colors, especially white, which is a color many birds are accustomed to seeing as a danger warning (think of the white tail feathers of a dark-eyed junco when the bird is flying away). Choose colors to match specific habitats, such as lighter green or brown shades for birding in open rural areas or grasslands, darker hues for birding in a shady forest, or even blues and grays for a pelagic birding trip. One exception is if you are birding in a park or garden explicitly to see hummingbirds: in that case, bright colors such as orange, red, pink, and yellow might help attract the tiny birds closer for a better view.
  • Noise: Birds have exceptional hearing and no matter what clothing you wear, they will know you're there. At the same time, avoiding clothing with loud sounds, such as corduroy pants or a nylon jacket, can minimize the noise you make in the field and allow you to get closer to birds. When choosing shoes, be sure they don't squeak with each step. Also avoid any zipper pulls, buckles, or other accessories that may rattle when walking.
  • Environment: The exact habitat you plan to be birding in will affect what clothing you choose. Long sleeves and long pants are most useful for blocking excessive sun and discouraging insects in all habitats, while waterproof clothing, especially footwear, is a good idea in wetland habitats. Thermal clothing is essential for winter birding, while lighter fabrics that promote air circulation are a smarter choice for summer or tropical birding.

More Tips for Birding Clothes

No matter where you will be birding or what you hope to wear, remember:

  • Wear a hat to shield your eyes and break up the outline of your head and face for better camouflage near wary birds.
  • Avoid choosing clothing that reflects ultraviolet light. Birds can see UV light and will react to the reflection of the clothing.
  • Always choose clothes you don't mind getting dirty so you can take the steps necessary to see a bird better, even if it involves rubbing against bushes or stepping in the mud.
  • Bring along a change of clothes if possible, or at least a change of socks and footwear, to switch in case of wet feet or other discomfort.

A Note About Hunting Season

Hunting season in many areas falls right in the heart of fall migration, and birders planning to visit areas near hunting regions need to take steps to stay safe. When birding during hunting season, always follow recommended guidelines for safe hunting clothing, such as wearing a bright hat or pinning a strip of bright cloth to your regular bird watching outfit to make you more easily visible and recognizable to nearby hunters.

The best birding clothing is not only comfortable but useful as well, and by choosing the best clothing for birding, you will be able to see more birds more closely than you imagined.