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

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