What are Bird Watching Binoculars?

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Finding a yellow-bellied sapsucker is not always easy. That's why birders rely on the assistance of high-quality binoculars. Choosing the right bird watching binoculars may make the difference between being able to identify an elusive species or not.

Two birds in a backyard.
Two birds in a backyard.

Bird watching binoculars are much the same as other types of binoculars with a few exceptions. As a working definition, binoculars are hand held optical tools that magnify vision in order to see more detail at an extended distance. Binoculars are more practical than either telescopes or monoculars for bird watching because you can track a bird in flight easier. Since you are using both eyes at once, the brain is able to create a 3-D representation of what you are viewing; this depth perception is critical in finding your bird.

Bird watching binoculars should be lightweight and weather resistant.
Bird watching binoculars should be lightweight and weather resistant.

Experienced bird watchers may already have a favorite pair of bird watching binoculars, but for those just starting out, there are some basics to consider before rushing out to make the big purchase.

Bird watching binoculars should be able to focus quickly.
Bird watching binoculars should be able to focus quickly.

Because bird watchers spend a lot of time outdoors tramping over the landscape, bird watching binoculars must be lightweight, durable, and weather resistant. They must also be quick focusing, and be efficient even in the dim light of dawn or dusk. Before you buy bird watching binoculars, it is best to try them out in person to check to see if they feel good in your hands, can be easily adjusted, and to make sure you can see perfectly, even if you wear glasses.

The way binoculars work is rather straightforward. Binoculars are basically two adjacent telescopes. For fast sightings, you need a right side up image for the brain to process the image quickly. To create the right side image, prisms are employed to flip the image before it arrives at the eyes. All binoculars include three basic parts: the objective lens that captures an upside down image; the prism that turns the image right side up; and the eyepiece, which magnifies the image.

The first binoculars, called "Hunting Glasses," were produced by the Zeiss Optical Works in 1894. That company used prisms to right the image based on the findings of a mid-19th century Italian inventor named Porro. Since the 1960s, most birders have switched to binoculars that incorporate a newer type of prism, called a roof prism. A roof prism is preferred because of its straight line from the objective lens to the eyepiece. Porro binoculars are still popular, however, because they are less expensive, weigh less, and the images show better contrast.

Binoculars are hand held optical tools that magnify vision in order to see long distances.
Binoculars are hand held optical tools that magnify vision in order to see long distances.

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