How to Use a Spotting Scope for Birding | An Expert Guide

There is nothing that can replace the extreme close-up view of a rare bird in the wild. Binoculars can get you close but, if you want to look the bird in the eye or confirm that identification for your life list, you need a spotting scope.

Spotting scopes pack incredible magnification in a generally simple and lightweight package durable enough for fieldwork while boasting fantastic optical quality for birding. In this guide, I will tell you how to use a spotting scope for birding.

What is birding?

Birding is to watch/observe the birds in their natural habitat as a hobby. Nowadays, this is not just only a hobby. People are more serious about birding, and there is specialized equipment for this activity. You can call this a growing sport. Approximately 48 million people in the USA are regular birdwatchers. Most people like to appreciate nature and watch great creations like birds. A birdwatcher allows a bird to live peacefully and observe it for the time being. They don’t hurt them in any way or interfere in their life. 

Bird watching and birding are two different things with some similarities. The easy way to understand this is if you watch a bird casually in front of you without much effort and travel, you are a birdwatcher. On the other hand, if you travel to a certain destination with the intent of watching or observing birds, then you are a birder. A dedicated birder will stay out for hours and even days searching for a bird. It is both passion and obsession for them.

Scouting Scopes for birding – importance, and use 

Spotting scopes resemble small telescopes, but instead of the two eyepieces used on binoculars, they have a single eyepiece from which you see. They include using a tripod; the scope is attached to the tripod head, allowing you to swivel it when viewing. Window mounts can be used instead of a tripod for people who bird from their cars. A lens, like your binoculars, isn’t meant to be a handheld optic—it needs an amount for stability.

Read More: Best Spotting Scope Tripod for Hunting

If you have a binocular, it will give you 8X or 10X zoom, but a scouting scope will take that to the next level. They’ll offer you various magnification options, normally starting at 15-20x when zoomed out and 40-60x when zoomed in. It will help you watch birds that are far away. If the bird is close to you, then you have no use of a scope. The scope will also struggle with fast-moving birds; a binocular will suit you well there. 

Scouting scope – Basic and tips 

First of all, let’s look at the 3 fundamental things of a scope-


The dimensions of the outside lens decide how wide the scope is and how vivid the picture is – the larger, the better optically, but also heavier. There are ‘straight’ and ‘angled’ two types of the body. Naturally, It is easier to use a straight lens than an angled one. Even so, Practice is needed to master any one of them perfectly. 

If you are trying to look for a bird in the sky or on higher land, then you will need to raise the tripod legs or pull the scope downwards, and if you are in a higher place and want to look down, then you might have trouble unless you shorten the tripod legs. The advantage of angled scope is that you can see from the sides in certain situations. 


The magnification strength of the scope is determined by the type of eyepiece used. Eyepieces can be fixed, meaning they magnify any image at the same magnification power, for example- 20x, 30x, or 40x. Most eyepieces have a zoom feature that allows you to change the magnification, usually between 20x and 60x. If you increase the power, your field of vision will lessen. The more heat blur you face, the more difficult it will be to locate anything, but the larger and better the actual bird image will be. 

For a good purpose, zoom-enabled eyepieces are the most common, but they sacrifice some optical efficiency. This isn’t a big deal in higher-end scopes, but it’s a big deal in lower-end scopes, but if you need to save money on your lens, a fixed power eyepiece will be a good choice. Through eyepieces, you can zoom on a bird and then take a picture through your smartphone. The quality won’t be too bad, and you can use it later. 


Many common birding spotting scopes have magnifications of 60x or higher. As a result, having a spotting scope in one hand is impractical. Any birder who wants to use a spotting scope needs a stable tripod. It’s better to get a tripod that will be able to adjust to the height you need. If the person you bird with is shorter than you, then it’s wise to get a tripod made for shorter height, particularly if you have an angled frame, which might be a good idea. It is also critical that the fluid and smooth spinning tripod head help you set your goal and adjust positions when a bird takes off.

This video will help you to set the equipment mentioned above 

Things to Consider While Buying Spotting Scope for Birding


While spotting scopes are available in various configurations and magnifications, not all are suitable for birding. A variable power 20-6080 spotting scope is ideal for birding. It allows the user to reduce the magnification to 20 xs when finding a bird with a wider field of view and then increase the magnification to 60x to see fine detail. The objective (front) lens of the optic is measured in millimeters. It’s not always true that bigger is better! Remember that glass is thick, and the larger the lens, the heavier the scope.

Start with basics 

Set the spotting scope to a limited magnification when attempting to identify a bird or animal. As a result, the field of view – and therefore the picture you see – is much larger. You can zoom in and check out all the small information once you’ve found your mark. To achieve optimum sharpness, adjust the emphasis.

Landmarks and support 

When trying to locate an animal, it’s helpful to look for landmarks in the landscape. Look through the spotting scope for distinguishing features, and then move your gaze to your target. Spotting scopes with sighting aids will make it easier to locate your target. It’s more difficult to locate your objective if the spotting scope moves. A tripod is best for this, but a soft backpack or the top of a car can also help.

Using both eyes 

Using both eyes is the most common way to observe. In recent years, the most advanced spotting scopes have included a binocular adapter that allows you to use both eyes. Try it for yourself and see what a difference it makes. This will make birding easier for you. 

Watch this video for more practical knowledge 


A spotting scope allows the user to get right in the middle of the action and see details that binoculars cannot. To decide which size is right for you, you must first understand how you can use and carry the optics. If you are passionate about this, then getting a scope will be worth it. 

Using a spotting scope, like everything else, is an ability that can be mastered. So don’t be discouraged if it seems hard at first. Practice and get advice from online and your friends. Have patience, and you will master the art of birding in no time. 

Alix Johnson Romi

Alix is the Co-founder of Easy Trip Guides. She started with Michael to share her love for the outdoors with people from all around the globe. She started as an outdoor lover while skiing and snowboarding in the backcountry of New Zealand with her future husband, Antonio. They shared a dream to see the world, so in 2013 they set off to cycle from California to Argentina. The freedom of the open ice route, living close to nature, and the total annihilation of her comfort zone fueled Alix's desire to keep exploring long after the bike trip was over. Her adventure addiction has taken her scuba diving with hammerhead sharks, hiking to the K2 base camp, kiteboarding in Sri Lanka, and kayaking in Antarctica. Through these experiences, she has developed a strong belief in the power of adventure to reconnect people to nature, provide meaningful jobs to impoverished communities and promote the conservation of wild places and animals. At Easy Trip Guides, she covers snowing, skating, snowboarding, and skiing as she loves to do these outdoor adventures a lot.

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