What to Wear Birding When You Care What You'll See and How You'll Look

A guest blog by Bryony Angell

Vermilion Cardinal, one of the mouth-watering birds in Colombia, photo by Ruth Miller

Back in December 2019, Ruth was lucky enough to be invited to Colombia to visit the beautiful northern Caribbean coastline of this vibrant and bird-rich country. With her were fellow female birders, writers and tour guides from the USA and Colombia itself, all excited to experience the amazing birdlife here. As well as sharing birds, they also shared their past experiences of birding around the world, the highs and the lows of being in the field, the differences of being female birders, or rather of being birders who happen to be female. They even talked about football, or should we say soccer, but they also talked about the kit and clothing they use when birding in the extremes of climate.

Fast-forward to May, and one of Ruth's lovely fellow-travellers, Bryony Angell from Seattle, USA, penned the following guest blog. Bryony writes about the birding life from the Northwest corner of the United States. She's written about birding culture for National Audubon, Bird Watcher's Digest and She-Explores. You can read more of her content at bryonyangell.com. So sit back and enjoy the following read from across the pond!

What to Wear Birding When You Care What You'll See and How You'll Look
By Bryony Angell, writer and girl birder

A butterfly resting on my hat, attracted by the red of my sunglasses. San Lorenzo Field Station, Santa Marta Mountains, Colombia. Photo by Eliana Ardila.

In reference to the title of this post, oh yeh, I’m talking function and vanity, baby. In my effort to share lightness and levity in this time of social distancing, I’m bringing you some fashion tonic (with gin and lime, if you wish).

I’m a no apologies lover of birding and fashion and the two are not mutually exclusive. I have written about this before (check out this list of posts). but lately I’ve given additional thought to what happens when you know you’re going to have your picture taken. And no, it’s not just “is this my good side?” Being photographed birding telegraphs a lot of messages, not just sartorial ones.

And what are those things to consider, exactly? Read on.

Wear what represents you.

I hope you know from reading this blog that I try to get away from the generic, tricked-out birder ensemble. I want to look like a woman representing myself. The same can be said for everyone who loves birding who does not fit the longstanding stereotype of a white, upper middle class (male) retired person. Can I get a show of hands for how tired that stereotype is? No offense to the gents, but I am speaking to the ladies, here.

So first order of business is you do you. If you’re an urban woman of color like Philadelphia-born biologist Corina Newsome, wear your high tops and hoops in the field (like she does in her You Tube riff of Offset’s “Clout,” featuring Cardi B., turning it into a stealth educational video). https://youtu.be/HI_cInHxLdQ

“Am I supposed to wear khakis? No.” she says on the BirdSh*t podcast. “I’m gonna dress how I’ve always dressed. Make yourself seen, post pictures of yourself. Other people have someone to look at. It helps and it works.”

Or wear your favorite dress to be intentionally celebratory, like Alaska-based artist and educator Sara Wolman, whose “quick-drying, tundra green paisley long pleated dress” (as she describes it—still no photo of herself in this get up, but use your imagination!) is a critical part of her spring birding ensemble. “Since it’s usually rainy in spring when I am able to finally roll it out, I wear leggings and xtratuffs underneath,” she says, using a hair band to tie it up if conditions are too soggy. “Honestly, there’s nothing better than sitting in the tundra in a float dress and watching thousands of migratory birds come back home. I feel like I need to dress up for that event.”

That’s me in a fancy dress, birding for real (tho’ this was a branding photo session). I saw a pied-billed grebe while posing! Photo by Dragana Lassiter.

That’s what I’m talking about! Here’s a few more ladies representing their bad selves in the field, below.

My friends Jackie Thai and Tiffany Adams looking fine in their respective day of birding outfits.

The point is, your fashion choices reflect who you are, and can send a message of joy, inclusion, playfulness and utility (you want to be able to bird comfortably in your get up, presumably!). There is no one way to “look like” a birder, although having said that, the one thing that might be a non negotiable are the binoculars.

Don’t be afraid of some splashes of color

There’s the advice to match the color of whatever environment you are birding in, so as to blend in and see more birds. That still leaves a lot of room for interpretation, especially if you are birding in a city or the tropics. So consider your setting and dress accordingly.

However, a few color rules apply:

Avoid an all-white get up (birds see white as possible sign of alarm), and anything reflective. Wear brighter colors as a small detail rather than the main event, and know even those little flourishes will attract birds. My red sunglasses drew in not only butterflies but hummingbirds when I birded in the Santa Marta mountains of Colombia. “Your Hollywood look attracts the bling birds!” teased my friend and travel mate Wendy Clark.

Watching the hummingbird feeders in the gardens of the El Dorado Eco Lodge in the Santa Marta mountains of Colombia, catching a few curious birds with those red sunglasses on my head. Photo by Luisa Conto.

Make sure it’s appropriate for the climate.

You want to consider the weather and conditions of where you are birding when planning what to wear. Never was I worse prepared than on a December 2019 birding trip in Colombia, as a guest of the eco-tour company Nature Colombia.

This might surprise you, as Colombia is right near the equator, but its geography results in a wild ride of climates, some of them experienced within a matter of hours. Daytime temperatures along Colombia’s Caribbean coast range from F 100 degrees along the water to below freezing at the San Lorenzo Ridge in the Santa Marta mountains. I packed for summer birding in my choice lightweight cotton knits and blends, neglecting to pack anything warmer than a rain coat. And even my cottons failed me. Here I am below in all my sweat-stained glory. Yuck.

Never let them see you sweat! At least not in photos. Juliana Torres looking as cool as a cucumber and me, looking like a sweaty Yankee. I am wearing faux gear—it looks like the real thing but is all cotton, all wrong for that climate! Photo by Wendy Clark

I learned my lesson fast and next you see me in borrowed REI pants and a billowy top with lots of ventilation. Next to me is Colombian birding guide Diana Balcazar wearing quick drying, fitted and attractive outdoor gear that doesn’t show sweat. Diana, rounded up her daily outfits with a different pair of artisan earrings each day. She knows what she is doing as a professional. Which brings me to my next tip.

Birding guide Diana Balcazar in her perfectly appropriate Columbia blouse and Tatoo pants (a popular South American outdoor clothing brand), and me better prepared than earlier in REI field pants and a more billowy (less sweaty) top. Photo by Ruth Miller.

Take notes from the professionals.

The Colombia trip inspired this post, with the proximity to both birds and lady birders. Below you have sister media guest and professional birding guide Ruth Miller in performance gear, no sweat stains in sight, photo taken at same location as my sweaty self above. “For hot countries I wear Craghoppers Nosilife shirts and trousers,” she says. “ They’re cool, lightweight, quick-drying and impregnated with insect repellent.”

Ruth Miller in the foreground, in her appropriate for the climate attire. Craghopper Nosilife shirt and Rohan pants. Photo by Wendy Clark.

Ruth was exceptionally prepared for this trip, as she had flown in to meet us from the southern tip of Argentina, where she’d just finished leading a birding tour with her partner Alan Davies. If it weren’t for dear Ruth, I would have frozen. She loaned me her extra mittens for our morning on the San Lorenzo Ridge in the Santa Marta mountains at over 9000 feet and temperatures near freezing. She had packed for even colder weather, her earlier trip having included sailing in the Antarctic.

Our time on the San Lorenzo Ridge at over 9K feet (2800 m), birding endemics. As you can see from our puffers and mittens, it was COLD! L to Right: Diana Balcazar, Ruth Miller, Wendy Clark, Bryony Angell, Juliana Torres, Eliana Ardila, Luisa Conto and Angela Gomez. Photo by Breiner Tarazona.

“At home in the UK I also wear a lot of Country Innovation clothing https://www.countryinnovation.com/outdoor-country-clothing/ladies-outdoor-country-clothing,” she says. “The company is run by a lady and I think the women’s clothing is tailored much better to suit us because of this.” Ruth probably didn’t intend it, but her recommendation for clothing lines speaks to a history of the English time outdoors, and my next suggestion.

Consider what has stood the test of documented time style-wise (but without looking like you’re in costume).

If you look at many Europe-based outdoor clothing companies you’ll see both shooting and birding listed for activities (yes, I mean shooting birds), since both are popular and overlap sartorially (I would not say they overlap as far as participation, however. Both are distinct groups). The same style overlap between hunting and birding cannot be said for North America, in my opinion. There are a few US companies like Filson, which are trying to bridge the style gap for hunters (they haven’t marketed to birders yet, big vacuum, guys!), but generally the North American birding look is still evolving out of its nerdy ensemble.

For cold weather birding at home, I am much better prepared, and I take a feather from the English country get up. Insulated rubber boots with Vibram soles (as good for hiking as they are keeping my feet warm and dry), wool coats with deep pockets and a brimmed wool hat. Here I am below with my twin sister, Gilia and our childhood friend Katie Klahn, birding in the Skagit Valley north of Seattle.

Left to right, Bryony Angell, Katie Klahn and Gilia Angell, at Edie Road outside Stanwood, WA. Photo by Elisa Murray.

Show your birding pride.

Yes! If you’re going to be in a photo which is shared, show that birding pride! We want it to be obvious what we are up to in the photo, and show that birding is fun, fascinating, and part of a greater whole in the outdoor world. Wear a pin, patch, baseball cap, scarf or t-shirt emblazoned with a message of bird conservation, birding sorority, regional birding pride, species pride, support for eco-tourism or country-specific birding (as below in our Nature Colombia hats!).

With Angela Gomez, founder and owner of the eco-tour company Nature Colombia, out side Camarones, Colombia. Photo by Wendy Clark.

Over the years I have collected pins and patches for my hats and field bags at birding festivals, nature centers and birding reserves. In this current pandemic era, however, you can thank online sources such as Little Nuthatch and Bird Collective for adding to your emblem collection.

My favorite winter birding hat decked out in pins from Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB), Seattle Audubon, Phoebes Birding, ProColombia and a hand carved screech owl by my dad, Tony Angell.

Be conscious about what you wear in photos and celebrate the message you’re imparting by looking your best birder self. Your vanity and personal passion for wild birds is serving a greater purpose of spreading the love of wild bird appreciation and conservation. If you enjoyed this post, follow the links throughout to some great resources and support these (in some cases) small and (most) conservation-minded businesses and individuals. None of this is sponsored or affiliated, in case you are wondering.

Thank you for reading and if you have any ideas along this what-to-wear theme, do drop us a line on


and we'll be happy to forward them on to Bryony.

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