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Birding for People Who Are Blind or Visually Impaired: Tips and Resources

Birding, a popular pastime especially during the fall months, can be and is becoming more and more accessible, thanks to the efforts of birders who are blind or visually impaired, advocacy organizations and other groups. “This is a time when birders of all branches, pardon the pun, are being welcomed into the circle of observation,” reported The Examiner News, in I Know Why the Wild Bird Sings; Or Do I? This story chronicles the experience of an ace bird watcher who has identified birds by their songs. Groups like the National Audubon Society have made an effort to make their offerings more inclusive and accessible. Blind birder Trevor Attenberg writes about his discovery of “just how accessible nature can be…” in an article appearing on, Birding Blind: Open Your Ears to the Amazing World of Bird Sounds. Attenberg, who is legally blind, began birding while in high school in a rural area of Connecticut, starting with his mother’s teachings about the difference between the call of Blue Jays versus that of American Crows. His skills and passion for birding grew in college, when he travelled abroad and later in relocating to Portland Oregon. Another birder, Donna Posont, learns bird songs by listening to CDs and recording samples of her own. This all began for her when she worked at a camp for blind children and sought to find “activities beyond arts and crafts…” She later began the Birding by Ear and Beyond Program at the University of Michigan. The program’s mission is “to use birding to build confidence and improve mobility skills for blind people.” Read more about Posont’s story in Birds & Blooms:  Identifying Birds by Their Song. Resources and tips are available for birders who are visually impaired through Birdability, an organization that works to guarantee that birding is “welcoming, inclusive, safe and accessible for everybody.”  Following are some tips they offer for those who have low vision:
Position yourself so that sunlight is behind you: to minimize contrast and glare
Watch for movement: that will help in locating the bird
Use a digital camera with a zoom lens rather than binoculars: binoculars have a narrow field of view; using a camera helps to keep the bird in view as you zoom in.
These tips and more from Birdability, as well as birding resources, can be found in Tips and Resources for Birders who are Blind or have Low Vision

Free Birding Apps:
The Audubon Bird Guide App provides a complete guide to more than 800 species of birds in North America. It helps in identifying birds, keep records of birds observed and find out about new birds nearby.
The Merlin Bird ID, from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, offers quick help in identifying birds across the Americas, Europe, Asia, Africa, and Oceania. “Answer three simple questions about a bird you are trying to identify and Merlin will give you a list of possible matches.”
According to Birdability, both apps are accessible to VoiceOver on Apple devices and TalkBack on Android devices.