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Holiday gift ideas for the birder in your life

Even small areas of bushes in an urban landscape produces cover for a variety of organisms. Keith Corliss / Forum Communications Co.

Christmas shopping has never been a strong area for me. I'm not entirely sure why, it just happens to be that way. I think the hype and hustle of the season blur my ability to reason clearly and I end up buying something spontaneously, something a little odd, or - worst of all - something unwanted. I need concise straightforward hints or it becomes an iffy roll of the dice.

That said let me offer some insight for those struggling to find a gift for the bird watcher in the family, something I know a little about. Maybe she's a niece, a cousin, a sister, daughter, or just a friend. In any case, she will appreciate any of the following items in her Christmas stocking. Trust me.

First, you can never go wrong with books, at least the idea of them. The safest of all avenues here might be to take the gift certificate route. If feeling somewhat bold, however, you might want to pick out a specific title. Just released last month was National Geographic's 6th edition of its popular Field Guide to the Birds of North America. That's a surefire pleaser and one to be welcomed into any birder's library.

Similarly, bird CDs are popular and desired products for new and experienced bird lovers alike. There is really no other way to quickly learn the songs and calls of various birds in an area other than listening to recordings of them. There are a lot of products out there so stick with reputable names such as Stokes, Peterson, or Audubon, and look for the largest area of coverage such as North America.

One product sure to score points is a bird feeder. Most bird watchers also feed birds and another feeder is sure to bring a smile his face. Again this is an area with a ton of variety so it might be wise to get a hint from the potential recipient. Better yet, make one. Basic skills are all that's required to construct a simple seed feeder so why not give a gift made with your own hands?

An idea not on most people's radar is a membership to the American Birding Association, or ABA. Annual dues are $45, which includes the bi-monthly magazine, Birding. The ABA calls itself the only organization dedicated to the recreational birder. Perhaps, but the magazine itself is worth the price of membership with august articles ranging from the identification of certain subspecies to a recap of the most recent national convention. The ABA may call itself recreational, but I see it as having one foot firmly planted in the scientific world which appeals greatly to me, and likely will for the birder in your family too.

If the recipient of this season's bird gift is a home or land owner, here's another one which likely won't enter the mind of the giver: A gift certificate to a local nursery. I'm serious. Birds, like all wild creatures, are intimately tied to habitat in their winter and summer ranges, but during migration too. There is really no better gift to give the outdoors person than a way to improve or enhance habitat especially an urban one. A few well-placed shrubs or trees can and will do wonders to the look of your yard. Additionally, they help create microenvironments which will pay dividends for years to come.

One area I would approach with caution is optics. Binoculars and spotting scopes can be very expensive and so buying one of these products without the direct consultation or approval of the recipient is risky. With him or her alongside you, however, this can be fun.

I would only offer three suggestions for binoculars. One, every hand is different, every eye is different and so binoculars should never be purchased without handling them. Second, remember higher magnification does not mean a better set of binoculars, not even close. Finally, don't go cheap, you'll regret it. I hate to even say it but I would hesitate to even consider anything less than, say, $300.

I've got a few more gift ideas for the bird aficionado but they'll have to wait for next year. In the meantime, I'm heading out the door to go Christmas shopping. Does anyone know where I can buy a Jarts game?