How Spotting Scopes Make Bird Watching 10x Better


A spotting scope is one piece of birding equipment that can take birding experience to a new level in a minute.

There’s a good chance you’ve peeped through one owned by a companion on a birding expedition. So you may have an idea.

Wait a minute…

I’m not talking about a binocular.

Binoculars serve the same purpose, but they are miles apart in terms of functionality with a spotting scope – more on that in a bit.

But how can a spotting scope make years of bird watching much better so fast you wonder?

Before I get to that, this article is not to boast about how spotting scopes floor binoculars. In fact, binoculars are the best for backyard bird watching and in the wild, depending on the situation.

However, for the avid bird enthusiast looking to identify and bask in the beauty of different species in the wild, spotting scopes can be a golden piece of equipment.

Difference Between Spotting Scopes And Binoculars

The most obvious one is that a spotting scope has one lens, while binoculars have two. But don’t judge by the numbers, spotting scopes have higher visual magnification than binoculars in general. Spotting scopes usually start off where the bins end, and it’s no surprise since they compact telescopes.  You can check out scope reviews and compare among the best before making a final choice.

But a binocular is much easier to use, less expensive, and portable. You can easily hang a binocular around your neck or carry it around. A binocular allows you to survey the birding area right from your car or while walking down the trail.

However, you’ll need a good tripod stand and tripod head in a good position to make use of a spotting scope. And not everyone has the luxury of time or patience to set up and tune the scope on a trail.

So that’s that for now about these magnifiers.

It’s really not a battle since they are one of the few essential birding accessories you get to choose based on preference. And for your convenience, a buying guide here is provided where you can get the best spotting scope for your bird watching.

With that out of the way, I’ll go ahead and unravel how the spotting scope would change your birding experience forever. Well, only if you want an extensive range of view and the best image clarity you can get, even in low light conditions.

The Unnerving Benefits Of Spotting Scopes For Birding

Reading Through The Lines

It’s one thing to spot birds and admire their plumage and grace with your eyes. And it’s another to see them up-close through the lenses of a binocular.

But it’s a whole new level of experience when you observe birds in the wild with a spotting scope.

Here’s an idea:

Spotting scopes have a magnification that ranges between 20-60x. That’s basically starting off at a zoom range where most binoculars would stop. The most powerful and expensive binocs only have about 15x magnification.

This means you can spot birds at great distances you never thought possible. Unlike a binocular, you can zoom in on a bird out of a large flock to see more details. This way, you can spot rare birds that like to mingle with other animals or bird species.

And detail is key for professional birders like Walker Golder, who is the Deputy Director of Audubon North Carolina. He uses powerful spotting scopes to read bands attached to tiny shorebirds such as terns, that stand at about four inches tall. And the scopes would let him clearly read bands that on their tarsus that measure as little as only half an inch.

That’s the kind of extra detail a spotting scope can bring to your birding. But a significant drop in image quality may occur as you extend the magnification. But then again, it won’t be much of an issue if you invest in a quality spotting scope.

Cyclop Vision

Birding can be challenging and frustrating in low light conditions, especially if you’re the type that likes to take photos. For instance, having a clear view of birds in a dense forest with canopies of trees blocking direct sunlight or under an overcast sky can prove to be difficult.

Spotting scopes have a considerably large objective lens (the front lens). It’s usually between the range of 50mm to 100mm, depending on the model.

The effect of this is that the lens can gather enough light in low-light conditions to present a bright and clear image into the scope. But wait now, using a larger lens means it must also have a high-quality glass, such as ED or HD, to give the best results.

And it comes at a price, both literally and figuratively. A large objective lens is more expensive and also makes the spotting scope heavy and difficult to move around. Not to mention this could be a “baggage headache” for a backpacker or while boarding at the airport.

Nonetheless, it would be well worth it for a professional wildlife photographer or birder looking to explore the after-hours in the wild.

Never Close Enough

Do you get that “if I could just get a little closer” feeling when you are out birding?

Birding wouldn’t be fun if moments like this never happen, and you can bet they happen often. As you already know, birds would fly off if you get anywhere close, and others such as eagles or raptors are usually just too far away to spot.

With a spotting scope, you can get much closer without scaring off the prize or putting yourself in danger. With the right magnification setting and a quality scope, it would be like you’re right in front of the bird.

And just like that, you get a full glimpse at a rare bird species that you never thought you’d see with such clarity in the wild. You can read the enthralling story of how Mike Perrin scoped the Little Blue Heron and Prothonotary Warbler in Winseganett Avenue and Santuit Pond of Boston County.

Telephotography/ Digiscoping

Do you love to take photos of birds in the wild? Ever heard of or tried digiscoping?

Digiscoping is the art of attaching a camera or cellphone to a spotting scope to document and capture memorable moments with the birds. A lot of birders try to mimic this using a binocular and a smartphone adapter.

But It’s just not the same as getting it done with a spotting scope. This isn’t supposed to be a competition, but there’s no way to say it better.

Using bins for digiscoping is just too difficult for its benefits. It’s tough to focus the phone’s camera on one of the lenses while you’re holding the binocular or aiming at a target.

But with a spotting scope, it’s much easier to adjust a DSLR or phone to its lens. Plus, with the mind-boggling magnification of a scope, you can take amazing and memorable close up photos of birds you spot.

Fortunately, many mid-range spotting scopes would come with a phone adapter that can get you started with digiscoping. If you want to use a camera or higher end spotting scope, you will have to buy an adapter separately.


A spotting scope is an essential birding tool you should carry along on your next trip. However, many folks don’t recommend it as such because it can cost quite a fortune.

But you’ve seen the way it can transform your birding experience with its unlimited magnification and crisp image quality. If you will be watching birds in the wild, investing in a good spotting scope would pay off almost immediately.

And it doesn’t matter in you have a pair of binoculars already. Both are used interchangeably by birders for different purposes.

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