Although binoculars are the basic optical equipment that any birder needs, for those who are serious about their birdwatching, spotting telescopes are the next piece of equipment on their list. Bird spotting scopes allow you to get a much better look at distant birds, particularly shorebirds and waterfowl that can sometimes be difficult to see well with binoculars alone. Although they cannot be used to follow fast moving birds around, they do allow you to get a good look at birds that are within their field of view.
Choosing among the best bird spotting scopes
In addition to the actual attributes of your bird scope, one of the overriding considerations will be price. Generally the better birding scopes will be of better quality, with the more expensive ones being more rugged, weatherproof and accompanied by a lifetime warranty. Less expensive scopes can offer decent images at relatively low powers of 15x to 2x magnification, but the image quality can rapidly degrade with these spotting scopes at higher zoom powers. The best bird spotting scopes will maintain a high-quality, sharp image even at 60x zoom or higher. Also cheap spotting scopes usually have a fixed power zoom, often a 30x wide angle, which may be preferred by some birders. However, some birders prefer a high power zoom that is more expensive, but can help with identifying raptors, seeing birds far out at sea, or picking out shorebirds congregated in large numbers. But an inexpensive spotting scope with a low powered fixed zoom eyepiece is quite satisfactory for many birders with limited budgets.
Another criterion that may be of importance for you is whether the bird scope is a straight-through design or angled. Both can have very similar optics. A straight through design may make it easier to align your sights on a bird, especially if it is moving, but an angled scope is easier to set up for a group when the group members are of different heights. In that case, you can set up the scope to be viewable by the shortest person in the group, and it will be easily accessible to everyone else, with a bit of crouching. An angled scope also makes it easier to set up the scope to be focused on birds below eye level, such as below a cliff on top of which you are standing.
Portability is another criterion of possible importance, especially if you happen to do a lot of your birding on foot. Larger models, with an 8mm or bigger objective lens, might offer a brighter image, especially in low-light situations, but are bulkier than smaller spotting scopes, which usually have a 60 or 65 mm objective lens. However, these days the optical quality can be almost the same between large and small spotting scopes.
If you wear glasses, then another feature of importance to you is probably eye relief, which determines how close to the lens you can put your eye. Newer bird spotting scopes have locking or turning eyecups which provide good eye relief even at high zoom power. But make sure the bird scope you choose is compatible with wearing eyeglasses. In some cases, you may see a tunneling effect when you look through the spotting scope. This is why it is important to look through the spotting scope yourself before you buy it. You can certainly order your spotting scope online, but make sure you have tested the same model in person first.
As such, choosing among spotting scopes for sale is such a subjective experience that it is really worth testing them out yourself before you invest in one. The best bird spotting scopes for someone else may not be the ones you would necessarily choose.
As such, some of the best bird spotting scopes (also the most expensive) are the following:
Kowa TSN-883 Prominar
Swarovski 80mm and 65mm HD scopes
Midpriced but good quality spotting scopes include:
Brunton Eterna 80
Opticron ES 80 GA ED
Bushnell Elite 20–60x80
On the budget end (below $1000), decent quality spotting scopes include the :
Vixen Geoma Pro 67
Vortex Stokes Sandpiper