spotting scope

How to use a Spotting Scope for Birding? 10 Easy Tips!

Birding is a popular hobby that has been enjoyed by people of all ages for many years. Spotting scopes are a valuable tool for birdwatchers, providing a clear and detailed view of birds from a distance.

However, using a spotting scope for birding can be a bit tricky, especially for beginners. In this article, we will provide you with all the information you need on how to use a spotting scope for birding like a pro?

From choosing the right spotting scope to proper setup and technique, we’ll cover everything you need to know to enhance your birding experience. So, grab your spotting scope and get ready to take your birdwatching to the next level!

How to use a Spotting Scope for Birding?

Explanation of spotting scopes

Spotting scopes are powerful optical instruments used for outdoor activities such as birdwatching, wildlife observation, target shooting, and astronomy. These scopes provide a high magnification, which allows users to see distant objects with great clarity.

Benefits of using a spotting scope

Benefits of using a spotting scope: Spotting scopes offer many benefits for outdoor enthusiasts. For birdwatchers, they provide a clear view of birds’ details without disturbing them. Wildlife observers can identify animals without getting too close, while target shooters use them for spotting shots and making adjustments. Astronomers use spotting scopes to observe celestial objects.

Overview of the article

This article is a comprehensive guide to spotting scopes, covering their basics such as types, parts, and choosing the right one. It also discusses proper setup and mounting, techniques for different activities, tips for proper use, and maintenance.

Image by Orlando Braun from Pixabay

Understanding the Basics of Spotting Scopes

Definition of Spotting Scopes

Spotting scopes are high-powered optical instruments designed to observe distant objects with great clarity.

Types of Spotting Scopes

There are two types of spotting scopes: angled and straight. Angled spotting scopes are more comfortable to use for extended periods and are ideal for birdwatching, while straight spotting scopes are better for observing fast-moving targets such as wildlife or sports.

Parts of a Spotting Scope

  • Objective lens: The lens at the front of the spotting scope that gathers light and produces the image.
  • Eyepiece: The lens closest to the viewer that magnifies the image produced by the objective lens.
  • Focus knob: The knob that adjusts the focus of the image.
  • Zoom: The feature that adjusts the magnification of the scope.
  • Eye relief: The distance between the eyepiece and the viewer’s eye that allows for comfortable viewing.
  • Exit pupil: The diameter of the beam of light that enters the viewer’s eye.
  • Diopter adjustment: The knob that adjusts the focus of the eyepiece for the viewer’s individual eyesight.

Choosing the Right Spotting Scope

  • Magnification: The magnification should be selected based on the activity and the distance of the object being observed.
  • Field of view: The field of view is the area that can be seen through the spotting scope and is determined by the magnification and the objective lens diameter.
  • Lens coatings: Different coatings on the lens can improve image clarity and reduce glare.
  • Prism types: Spotting scopes can use either roof or porro prisms, each with its own advantages and disadvantages.
  • Image stabilization: This feature reduces image blur caused by hand tremors, making it easier to observe objects for extended periods.
A spotting scope pointing outside.
Image by haffous36 from Pixabay

Proper Setup and Mounting of Spotting Scope


  • Types of tripods: Tripods come in various types such as table-top, lightweight, heavy-duty, and fluid head tripods. Table-top tripods are compact and ideal for small spotting scopes. Lightweight tripods are portable and great for hikers and travelers. Heavy-duty tripods are sturdy and can handle larger spotting scopes. Fluid head tripods provide smooth panning and tilting for video recording.
  • Choosing the right tripod: When choosing a tripod, consider its height, weight capacity, and stability. Make sure it’s compatible with your spotting scope and fits your intended use.
  • Setting up the tripod: Find a stable and level surface to set up the tripod. Extend the legs to the desired height and lock them in place. Use the tripod’s center column to adjust the height further.

Mounting the spotting scope

  • Angled vs. straight spotting scopes: Angled scopes have an eyepiece that is angled at 45 degrees from the objective lens, while straight scopes have a straight eyepiece. Angled scopes are more comfortable for extended use and allow for easier sharing between users. Straight scopes are more compact and easier to use for quick spotting.
  • Proper mounting techniques: To mount the spotting scope, attach it to the tripod’s head using the mounting plate. Adjust the scope’s orientation to the desired angle and lock it in place. Ensure that the spotting scope is secure and level before using it. Use the zoom and focus knobs to adjust the magnification and focus on the target.

Spotting Scope Technique for Different Activities


  • Identifying birds: Birdwatching is a popular activity that requires knowledge of bird identification. A spotting scope is an essential tool for birdwatchers to get a closer look at birds and observe their unique features and behaviors.
  • Spotting scopes for birdwatching: When selecting a spotting scope for birdwatching, it’s important to consider the magnification, lens size, and weight. A spotting scope with a magnification of 20x to 60x and an objective lens of at least 60 mm is ideal for birdwatching.
  • Best times for birdwatching: The best times for birdwatching are during the early morning or late afternoon, when birds are most active. Look for areas with diverse habitats such as forests, wetlands, and grasslands, as they attract a variety of bird species.

Wildlife Observation

  • Types of wildlife: Wildlife refers to various types of animals that can be observed in their natural habitats, such as mammals, birds, reptiles, and amphibians. Different regions have different wildlife, and some popular animals to observe include deer, elk, moose, bears, wolves, eagles, hawks, and owls.
  • Spotting scopes for wildlife observation: Spotting scopes for wildlife observation typically have a higher magnification than binoculars, allowing users to observe animals from a distance without disturbing them. They also offer better image quality and clarity, making it easier to identify animals and observe their behaviors. Spotting scopes with larger objective lenses and lens coatings can provide better low light performance, which is useful for dawn and dusk observations.
  • Best times for wildlife observation: The best times for wildlife observation depend on the type of animal and their natural behavior. Some animals are more active during the early morning or late afternoon, while others are nocturnal. It’s important to research the habits of the wildlife you want to observe and plan accordingly. Additionally, avoid disturbing the animals and their habitats, as it can be harmful to their survival.

Target Shooting

  • Types of targets: Target shooting involves shooting at a variety of targets, including paper, steel, and clay. These targets vary in size and shape, and shooters often set up different targets at different distances to challenge their skills.
  • Spotting scopes for target shooting: Spotting scopes are essential for target shooting, as they allow shooters to see where their shots are landing and make adjustments to their aim. Spotting scopes with high magnification and clarity are preferred, as they enable shooters to see bullet holes and other details in the target.
  • Best times for target shooting: Target shooting can be done at any time of the day, but shooters typically prefer early morning or late afternoon when the lighting conditions are optimal. In bright sunlight, glare can make it difficult to see targets clearly, while low light conditions can make it hard to see the bullet holes in the target. Shooters also need to consider wind conditions, as strong gusts can affect their accuracy.


  • Types of celestial objects: Spotting scopes can be used for astronomy to observe various celestial objects. These include planets, moons, stars, nebulae, galaxies, and other deep-sky objects. Each type of celestial object offers a unique view and requires different techniques to observe effectively.
  • Spotting scopes for astronomy: Spotting scopes for astronomy come in different sizes and designs, depending on the celestial objects you want to observe. A larger objective lens and higher magnification are usually better for observing deep-sky objects, while a smaller scope and lower magnification work well for viewing planets and moons. Spotting scopes with specialized coatings and filters can also enhance the viewing experience and provide more details. It is also important to use a sturdy tripod and mount to keep the spotting scope stable during observation. With proper equipment and techniques, spotting scopes can provide breathtaking views of the cosmos.
  • Best times for stargazing: The best time for stargazing with a spotting scope is on clear nights with minimal light pollution. Avoid using your scope during a full moon or when the sky is overcast. It is also advisable to stargaze during the darkest part of the night, typically a few hours after sunset. In addition, it is best to stargaze in areas with low levels of light pollution, such as parks or open fields.

Tips for Proper Spotting Scope Use

  • Proper focusing techniques: Spotting scopes require careful focusing to achieve the best image quality. Start by setting the focus knob to the middle of its range, then adjust the focus until the object is sharp. It’s important to keep your eyes steady and move the focusing knob gently for the best results. If you have trouble finding the object, start with a lower magnification and gradually zoom in until you locate it. Then, fine-tune the focus to achieve a clear image.
  • Adjusting the zoom: Spotting scopes come with zoom capabilities, allowing you to adjust the magnification according to your needs. When using the zoom, start with a lower magnification to locate the object and then zoom in for a closer look. Adjust the zoom carefully to avoid blurring the image. It’s also important to note that higher magnification may result in a darker image, especially in low light conditions.
  • Proper eye relief: Eye relief is the distance between the eyepiece and your eye when viewing through the spotting scope. Maintaining the right distance is crucial for achieving a clear image. To determine the right eye relief, look for the black ring around the eyepiece and move your eye closer or farther away until you see a complete circle. If you wear glasses, make sure to adjust the eye relief accordingly.
  • Proper diopter adjustment: Diopter adjustment is used to compensate for differences in each user’s eyesight. It’s important to adjust the diopter correctly to avoid eye strain and headaches. Start by focusing the spotting scope on an object, then close one eye and adjust the diopter until the image is sharp. Repeat the process with the other eye. If you wear glasses, make sure to keep them on while adjusting the diopter.
  • Using a tripod: Using a tripod can significantly improve the stability of the spotting scope, resulting in a clearer image. When choosing a tripod, consider the height, weight, and stability. Set up the tripod on a flat surface and attach the spotting scope securely. Avoid touching the spotting scope while it’s mounted on the tripod, as even small movements can affect the image quality.
  • Dealing with weather conditions: Weather conditions such as fog, rain, and glare can affect the quality of your spotting scope’s image. To deal with fog or humidity, use a lens cloth to wipe the lenses regularly. A rain cover or waterproof spotting scope can protect against rain. To avoid glare, adjust the angle of the scope and use a lens hood. In bright sunlight, it may be helpful to use a sunshade or to position yourself in the shade.

Maintaining and Caring for Your Spotting Scope

  • Cleaning the lenses: Keeping the lenses clean is essential to maintain the clarity and quality of the image. Dust, dirt, and fingerprints can affect the spotting scope’s performance. To clean the lenses, use a soft brush or a microfiber cloth to remove any loose dirt or dust. Then, apply lens cleaning solution or rubbing alcohol to a clean cloth and gently wipe the lens in a circular motion. Avoid using harsh chemicals or abrasive materials as they can damage the lens coatings.
  • Proper storage: Proper storage is important to protect the spotting scope from damage or wear and tear. Store the spotting scope in a dry and cool place, away from direct sunlight or moisture. Use a protective case or cover to prevent scratches or accidental damage. Make sure to remove the batteries and other accessories before storing to prevent corrosion or damage.
  • Maintenance and repairs: Regular maintenance can help prolong the spotting scope’s lifespan and prevent issues from arising. Check for any loose screws or parts and tighten them if necessary. Lubricate the moving parts with a recommended lubricant to ensure smooth movement. If the spotting scope requires repairs, seek the help of a professional technician or the manufacturer’s service center. Attempting to repair the spotting scope yourself may cause more damage and void the warranty.


  • Summary of the article: Spotting scopes are powerful optical instruments that provide high magnification and are used for outdoor activities such as birdwatching, wildlife observation, target shooting, and astronomy. This article provided a comprehensive guide to spotting scopes, covering their basics, proper setup and mounting, techniques for different activities, tips for proper use, and maintenance.
  • Benefits of using a spotting scope: Using a spotting scope offers many benefits for outdoor enthusiasts. Birdwatchers can get a clear view of birds without disturbing them, wildlife observers can identify animals without getting too close, target shooters can spot shots and make adjustments, and astronomers can observe celestial objects.
  • Final thoughts: Spotting scopes are an essential tool for outdoor activities, providing a clear view of distant objects. To fully enjoy the benefits of using a spotting scope, it’s important to choose the right one, properly set it up and mount it, and use it with proper technique. Regular maintenance is also important to ensure the scope performs optimally. With the proper use and care, a spotting scope can enhance any outdoor experience.

Frequently Asked Questions

How can I tell if a spotting scope is good quality?

There are a few things to consider when determining the quality of a spotting scope. Look for scopes with high-quality glass, durable construction, and good lens coatings. A reputable brand with positive reviews is also a good indicator of quality.

Can I use a spotting scope for stargazing?

Yes, spotting scopes can be used for stargazing, but they may not be the best option. Spotting scopes typically have a narrower field of view and higher magnification, making it difficult to find and track celestial objects. Telescopes are generally a better choice for stargazing.

Do I need a tripod to use a spotting scope?

It’s highly recommended to use a tripod with a spotting scope to prevent shaky images and make it easier to view objects for longer periods of time. However, some smaller, handheld spotting scopes may be used without a tripod if they have image stabilization features.

How do I choose the right magnification for my spotting scope?

The right magnification depends on the activity you’ll be using it for. For example, birdwatching typically requires lower magnification (around 20-30x), while target shooting may require higher magnification (40-60x). Consider the distance you’ll be viewing objects from and the clarity of the image at different magnifications.

Can I use a spotting scope for hunting?

Yes, spotting scopes are often used for hunting to identify and track animals at a distance. Look for scopes with a wider field of view and lower magnification (around 20-40x) for hunting purposes.

How do I properly maintain and clean my spotting scope?

To maintain your spotting scope, store it in a cool, dry place and avoid exposing it to extreme temperatures or moisture. Clean the lenses regularly with a lens cloth or brush, and use a lens cleaner solution if necessary. Avoid touching the lenses with your fingers, and be gentle when cleaning to avoid scratching the lenses.

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  • Vince S

    Meet Vince, the passionate founder and author of Learn Bird Watching, boasting 30 years of birding experience. With an unwavering mission to empower fellow bird enthusiasts, Vince shares invaluable wisdom and guidance. As a dedicated moderator and contributor to Quora's Bird Watchers' Club, he actively engages with the birding community, where his insightful answers have garnered over 440,000 views and over 2,670 upvotes. Whether you're a budding birder or a seasoned avian aficionado, his wealth of knowledge is at your service.