More than 45 million people in the U.S. watch birds around their homes and farther afield, according to the most recent U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service recreation survey, and there are more than a dozen podcasts aimed at educating and entertaining them. Whether you're a casual observer fascinated by the hummingbirds in your backyard or a die-hard birder with state-of-the-art binoculars and a field guide always at hand, you're likely to enjoy these four top shows (available on Spotify, your Apple podcast app and other popular podcast platforms).
'American Birding Podcast’
With a nice balance of expert insight, casual banter and host Nate Swick's self-described bad jokes, the official podcast of the American Birding Association manages to take deep dives while keeping things fun and light. “There is very little about birds that I don't find interesting,” says the affable Swick, a longtime birder whose roughly 40-minute weekly episodes cover topics like the best bird-friendly coffee (grown sustainably) and the humble feral rock pigeon (otherwise known as the city pigeon). He recently talked to Vermont naturalist Bridget Butler about “slow birding,” which, like the slow food and slow travel movements, is all about being present and enjoying the moment — connecting with the nature around you, rather than focusing on ticking off the species.
'Ray Brown's Talkin’ Birds’
When Ray Brown and his guests talk birds it's like listening to the Car Talk guys talk engines — they know their stuff intimately, but offer their knowledge in a relatable, entertaining way for those of us who may not be able to differentiate a sparrow from a starling. The weekly, interactive half-hour public radio show, which has more than 750 episodes in the bank, always features a Mystery Bird Contest, based on clues and calls of a particular species (listeners can call in and win prizes for correct answers). There's also a Let's Ask Mike segment that features often hilarious observations and backyard birding tips from Mike O'Connor, the owner of the Bird Watcher's General Store on Cape Cod (he's revealed the birding items sold in his store that he doesn't really like, for instance). A recent episode offered a fun birder's tour of South Florida and discussion of how birds keep cool in the heat.
'Out There With the Birds’
Bird Watcher's Digest's popular birding podcast is hosted by the magazine's editor, Dawn Hewitt, along with publisher Wendy Clark, and their enthusiasm about the subject is infectious: “Birds are a drug and I'm addicted,” says Hewitt, who always sound thrilled to be learning from experts or reminiscing with guests about the “spark birds” that brought on their birding habit (Hewitt reports that the common grackle kicked off her own). The early episodes of the podcast, which launched in 2016, are also worth diving into — they're full of previous hosts Bill Thompson III and Ben Lizdas’ discussions on random but entertaining subjects like seabird guano, the ethics of owling and their favorite beers.
Don't feel like committing to a lengthy show? BirdNote's daily two-minute snippets featuring facts about a particular species or bird-related topic are ideal diversions while you're brewing your morning coffee or brushing your teeth. Episodes have excellent sound quality, and birdsong often carries throughout, while hosts offer easily digestible segments on, for instance, how a great horned owl family spends its summer and a snapshot of the two-foot-tall gyrfalcons, which will reuse nests through the generations — some for many hundreds of years.