I have a really great spotting scope, an angled Swarovski 80mm HD scope with a 20 – 60 zoom eyepiece (and sometimes I alternate a 25 – 50 zoom eyepiece).  I love using it and I especially enjoy sharing it with other birders when I can show them a new life bird or get a great look at a favorite. However, attending a lot of bird festivals, there’s some scope etiquette I’d like to share with people who do not have scopes.

1. Watch where you walk and place yourself: Keep in mind that in group settings, bird watchers could be on all sides of you, carefully setting up a scope view. When getting on a bird, avoid walking in front of the scope and if you can’t, please don’t stop and block the whole view.

2. Get on that scope! If someone says to you, “Here, let me get you this bird in my scope,” and then immediately lines up a bird, get in there and look at the bird. Don’t dawdle, birds rarely stay in one spot and a few precious seconds of hesitation could cause you miss the bird.

3. Don’t be a scope hog. If there is a large group and you get a look at the bird, try to count to 3 and step to the side so those behind you can get a chance at their life bird. Once everyone who needs it as a lifer as seen it, you can go in for a second look and perhaps longer if the bird is still around.

4. Careful with your digiscoping. I teach people how to take photos with a digital camera or smartphone through my scope. But don’t always assume that your field trip leader is on board with that. Digiscoping takes practice, especially if you are doing it with an adaptor and it’s the first time you’ve tried the technique. It’s incredibly easy to scratch a scope eyepiece with a camera lens.

This is my 25-20 zoom eyepiece. All those dots? Those are nicks on my scope’s eyepiece from people who tried to hand hold their digital camera up to my scope’s eyepiece.

Many scopes have lifetime warranties, but those warranties do not always cover a scratch on the eyepiece and the cost to repair it could be in the neighborhood of $250. On top of that, it can take a few weeks to get that repaired, nothing is as heartbreaking as discovering that you need a lens repair in the middle of spring migration and you’ll be scope-less for 4 to 8 weeks.

These are four rules that I have, what would you like other birders to know about scope use?


Written by Birdchick
Sharon Stiteler was given a Peterson Field Guide to Birds when she was seven years old and snapped. She loves birds - it’s just the way she’s wired. Since 1997, she has made it her goal to get paid to go birding. She runs the popular birding blog, Birdchick.com, and has been in The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, and on NBC Nightly News as well as making regular appearances on Twin Cities’ TV and radio stations. She’s a professional speaker and story-teller and her writing can be found in several publications including WildBird Magazine, Outdoor News, and Birding Business. She wrote the books 1001 Secrets Every Birder Should Know, Disapproving Rabbits and City Birds/Country Birds. When she’s not digiscoping, tweeting or banding birds, she’s a part-time park ranger and award-winning beekeeper.