Tips for birdwatching with your dog

Blog post by Izzy Williamson on 09 Jul, 2022

Birdwatching with a dog can be quite challenging. Izzy Williamson, beach warden at NWT Holme Dunes, shares some of her best tips to help maximise your chances of success:

Learn about flight zones 

Wild birds have a flight zone; this is a distance that they feel comfortable you coming in. Once you cross that line, the bird will feel unsafe and either walk, run or fly away from you. You should try not to cause disturbance to birds where possible, as this can disrupt normal behaviours and feeding. Whilst on the coast you can follow advice on signage; most areas where shorebirds breed will be cordoned-off and have signage informing you how far away from the birds you need to be to avoid disturbance. In other areas you will need to use trial and error. Different bird species, and even individuals within that species, have different flight zones. Learning how far away you need to stay will help you have a more rewarding birding experience, because the birds will be more relaxed.

Go hands-free 

If you don’t want to have to hold your dog’s lead whilst looking through binoculars, it’s a good idea to invest in a lead that goes around your waist or across your chest. This will also help if you have a dog that won’t sit still. Alternatively, you can loop a longer lead around your waist and back through itself, before clipping it on to your dog’s collar. Avoid really long leads where possible because your dog running in front of where you are standing will decrease a bird’s flight zone.

Keep your dog occupied 

If your dog is sat quietly at your feet, you will find birdwatching much easier. Older dogs or certain breeds will be more likely to this, but other dogs may benefit from a distraction. A new toy that only comes birdwatching will keep your dog stimulated, leaving you to enjoy your surroundings in peace. Rewarding your dog when it’s time to move on will also help them to learn that it’s worth keeping still. Doing this calmly will stop them getting too excitable whilst waiting the next time. 

Blow-off steam 

Let your dog blow-off steam before taking them birdwatching. A dog that hasn’t been out all day or is just at the start of a walk, is not going to want to keep calm for you. Let high-energy dogs burn off a bit of energy before attempting to get them to wait.   

Get into a routine 

Dogs like routine, and if you do the things above in the same order every time you go birdwatching, regardless of where you go, your dog will soon learn. They will start to associate birdwatching with walks, play and treats and can quickly become their favourite thing to do. 

Bring the birds to you 

If you want to encourage more birds into your own garden, try giving them an area that your dog can’t go. In a large garden you could fence-off areas or leave sections of long grass. Dense shrubs and a variety of plants in any size garden will encourage even more.  

Don’t give yourself a hard time 

If you are finding that you just can’t make birdwatching with your dog work, don’t feel bad about it. If you’ve given it time and it’s still not working, it could be because of your dog’s breed or temperament. Dog breeds such as spaniels are designed to find and flush birds. They will get very excited if they think they’ve found one and probably won’t want to listen to what you say. You can try training and classes, but some dogs will just not be interested unless you’re an expert trainer. 

Main image - Tom Marshall

Share this

Latest Blog Posts

30 Days Wild blog competition winner 30 Days Wild blog competiti...
by NWT on 10 Aug, 2022
The Western Link: What would happen to our wildlife? The Western Link: What woul...
by Mike Jones, NWT Conservation Officer (Planning)  on 08 Aug, 2022
Claylands Meadow Management Claylands Meadow Management
by Helaina Parkinson on 03 Aug, 2022
10 years of the NWT Gallery 10 years of the NWT Gallery
by NWT on 22 Jul, 2022
All’s welcome: celebrating LGBTQ+ pride at Norfolk Wildlife Trust All’s welcome: celebrating ...
by Meg Watts on 22 Jun, 2022
Celebrating our patron, Her Majesty The Queen, on her Platinum Jubilee Celebrating our patron, Her...
by Josie Collins on 01 Jun, 2022
Norfolk's Seals: Past, Present and Future Norfolk's Seals: Past, Pres...
by Katy Ellis on 19 May, 2022
Bishop’s Garden Wild project – how did it go? Bishop’s Garden Wild projec...
by Susannah Armstrong on 05 May, 2022
Put your garden to the test! Put your garden to the test!
by The Wildlife Trusts on 21 Apr, 2022
NWT Young People's Photography Competition - See the winners! NWT Young People's Photogra...
by Rachael Murray on 07 Apr, 2022
Getting Wild About Gardens Getting Wild About Gardens
by The Wildlife Trusts on 24 Mar, 2022
A tribute to Peter Lambley MBE, 1946-2022 A tribute to Peter Lambley ...
by Helen Baczkowska on 10 Mar, 2022
Wooing in the Wild Wooing in the Wild
by The Wildlife Trusts on 24 Feb, 2022
Mammal Mysteries Mammal Mysteries
by Darren Tansley on 10 Feb, 2022
A Conservation Work Party at Upton Fen A Conservation Work Party a...
by Jerry Simpson on 27 Jan, 2022
How to Identify Owls How to Identify Owls
by The Wildlife Trusts on 13 Jan, 2022
NWT Recommends: Holiday Reads NWT Recommends: Holiday Reads
by Emily Mildren & Susannah Armstrong (with contributions from several NWT staff!) on 17 Dec, 2021
Broadland Group's Return to Work at Upton Fen Broadland Group's Return to...
by Jerry Simpson on 09 Dec, 2021
The Queerness of Nature: In conversation with James McDermott The Queerness of Nature: In...
by Meg Watts & Molly Bernardin on 02 Dec, 2021
COP26: What's it all about and what do we want to achieve? COP26: What's it all about ...
by Kathryn Brown on 04 Nov, 2021
A New Direction: Starting Small by Creating Norfolk Wetlands A New Direction: Starting S...
by William Walker on 21 Oct, 2021
Broadland Group Moth Night Broadland Group Moth Night
by Jerry Simpson on 07 Oct, 2021
Moth and butterfly survival strategies Moth and butterfly survival...
by The Wildlife Trusts on 23 Sep, 2021
Out for Nature: Reflections on Pride with The Wildlife Trusts LGBTQ+ Employee Network Out for Nature: Reflections...
by Meg Watts on 14 Sep, 2021