The Best Binoculars For Bird Watching, According To Birders

Brands like Vortex, Nikon and Swarovski make the cut when it comes to enjoying this nature-loving hobby.
Observe birds like the pros with these reasonably priced high-definition binoculars, this mountable spotting scope and this pair of fog-proof and lightweight binoculars made just for birding.
Amazon, REI
Observe birds like the pros with these reasonably priced high-definition binoculars, this mountable spotting scope and this pair of fog-proof and lightweight binoculars made just for birding.

If you haven’t had the privilege of observing the poppy-red plumage of a northern cardinal or tracing the migratory patterns of an American goldfinch, it can be easy to overlook the pleasure that is bird watching. And if you don’t have the right tools in which to experience the nuanced and highly detailed movements of birds or view their defining characteristics, you probably won’t reap all the benefits of this incredible hobby.

For Travis Longcore, president of the Los Angeles Audubon Society and professor at UCLA’s Institute of the Environment and Sustainability, the very act of paying attention to your natural environment and the wildlife in it can trigger a variety of beneficial outcomes from improved mental health to environmental advocacy — particularly in the case of birdwatching

“Psychological research shows that birdwatching, and associated time in nature, reduces stress, depression and anxiety,” Longcore told HuffPost, adding that as people develop an appreciation for the birds around them, they learn to value and speak on behalf of their habitation needs.

Whether you’re a casual observer that likes to watch a family of warblers nesting in your backyard or an avid bird-seeker, Longcore said that a pair of high-performance binoculars with crisp image capabilities is almost always a key component to a positive birding experience.

Ted Floyd, editor of award-winning Birding magazine and author of a number of bird books and technical articles, underscored that point by noting that if it wasn’t for birders and their keen, binocular-assisted observations, experts might not have the depth of avian knowledge that they do now.

“There is no one best model of binocular and birders differ in their preferences. A typical birding binocular will be 8x42 –– eight refers to the magnification and 42 mm is the diameter of the lens,” Longcore said. “Key features are the quality and clarity of the optics, their durability, weight and waterproofing, performance in low light and field of view.”

Floyd explained that for more shady or forested environments, you are probably best served by lower magnification binoculars, while higher magnification is suited sunny, wide-open environments. Like most things, he added, “you really get what you pay for.”

“All that said, the most ‘essential’ thing of all is to go outside and to go out often. A walk around your neighborhood may well yield 20-30 different bird species, exceptionally 50 or more,” Floyd added.

To be an informed birder, he also suggested that, in addition to binoculars, you access databases and field guides that can help identify the birds you are viewing.

In the list ahead, Longcore, Floyd and the National Audubon Society suggested some of the leading brands in binoculars for birding, plus shared some general knowledge about how to find a pair of binoculars that will meet your budget and birding intentions.

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Fog-proof lightweight binoculars that are friendly for glasses-wearers
If you're in a wet environment, waterproof binoculars that are resistant to humidity are pretty important and, according to Floyd, the quality of glass is even more so. Nikon's Monarch 7 8x24, a line of binoculars made specifically for birding, utilizes extra-low dispersion glass with an advanced multi-layer coating that virtually eliminates common distortion, chromatic aberrations and color fringing. Additionally, the O-rings on the lenses have been filled with nitrogen to resist fog and the locking diopter helps you to correctly adjust and maintain your vision setting.

Floyd said that it's also worth mentioning that the weight of your binoculars can be a huge factor for some and a non-issue for others. The Monarch 7 is a lightweight and compact model that can be comfortable to hold for longer periods of time without getting tired.
High-definition binoculars at a great price point
Floyd noted that the proverbial “Walmart special” — i.e., binoculars priced at $100 and under — are likely to be frustrating in their quality. "But if you can save your pennies, you're looking at good binoculars starting around $300 that will perform well on birds fairly close and in decent light,” he explained.

The highly-rated Diamondback HD binoculars from Vortex not only come at a relatively reasonable price, they also made it on the National Audubon Society's list of top-scoring binoculars in this price range. This particular model can be ideal for focusing on wildlife very close by, but they are also available in higher magnifications for further distances. They are optimized with select glass elements and multi-coated lenses to deliver exceptional resolution, cut chromatic aberration and provide outstanding color fidelity, sharpness and light transmission. The texture-coated barrels provide an improved surface for gripping.
A mountable spotting scope with a dispersion control lens
"More advanced birders may also invest in a spotting scope, which is just one lens and offers a higher magnification and is set up on a tripod," Longcore said. (High-end spotting scopes will usually run well over $2,000.) The Celestron Regal M2, which is recommended by the National Audubon Society as a top-scoring scope at a comparatively reasonable price point, provides true-to-life enhanced resolution and contrast. It also uses proprietary optical coatings, unique to Celestron, that maximize light transmission for brighter images. It offers 20-60x magnification, is easy to use and doesn't require multiple lenses like some other spotting scopes on the market.
All-terrain binoculars that offer clear and comfortable viewing
"As we age, our grip becomes less steady; it's not noticeable in most things in this life, but it is when you're holding precision optics in front of your face," Floyd said. "I think older birders aged 50-plus benefit, in general, from lower-power binoculars (8x or 7x magnification) with correspondingly less image vibration."

These durable binoculars offer 7x50 magnification, are waterproof and fog-proof and utilize the same high-reflective multi-layer prism coating as other models offered by Nikon in order to provide brighter, sharper colors and crisp and drastically improved low-light performance.
Top-of-the-line birding binoculars lauded for their pristine and detailed viewing
As Floyd mentioned earlier, the glass quality of a pair of binoculars will almost always be directly correlated to the price. And for top-of-the-line options like these FieldPros from Swarovski, Floyd said, "The glass is unbelievable and the ergonomics are miraculous."

These 8.5x42 magnification binoculars received a near-perfect score from the National Audubon Society for their balance, pin-sharp clarity and brightness. They offer a large field of view, perfect for spotting movement in your periphery, and are even suitable to use in conditions with poorer visibility and low-light. The user-friendly focusing wheel also helps to deliver precise and accurate viewing.

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