Cumru Township, PA -  Berks and its surrounding counties are blessed with abundant bird populations, ranging from large raptors to varied waterfowl to tiny finches and wrens.

Increasingly, people are turning to bird-watching as an outdoor activity, a trend that is growing in all of North America and many other parts of the world.

About one-fifth of all Americans self-identify as bird-watchers. They contribute many billions of dollars to the U.S. economy each year and billions more to other economies through travel to other areas to observe birds, the purchase of equipment and related expenses.

Bird-watching is enjoyable and nearly anyone can do it, explained Eleanor Sweeney, an environmental education specialist at Nolde Forest in Cumru Township.

The activity requires minimal equipment; it appeals to people of all ages; and, with some accommodations, is an accessible activity for people with disabilities.

"You really only need three things to get started with bird watching," Sweeney said. "You want to have a decent pair of binoculars, a bird identification book and a decent amount of patience."

Nolde is one of several organizations in Berks County that offers bird-related activities including bird counts, bird identification programs at its numerous feeders and a Flying Wild Festival to celebrate the return of many species of migrating birds that's set for May 1 from 1 to 4 p.m.

Observing birds is easily done with the use of feeders, especially during the winter when natural food sources are not as plentiful. During the other seasons, you can simply take a walk and see what varieties of birds are around.

While you'll encounter more birds in wooded or rural areas, they also can be seen in suburban areas and in city parks and feeders.

When learning to identify birds, there are five things to observe, Sweeney advised.

You should consider the size and shape of the bird, its color, the habitat in which you observed it, its voice and particular behaviors such as feeding on the ground.

Birds that tend to feed on the ground include juncos, mourning doves and Carolina wrens.

"A lot about bird-watching develops as your eye improves," Sweeney said. "As you get more involved, you'll start to observe not only the color of the bird, but how it moves, what it sounds like and where it is."

Male and female birds of the same species often appear very different, because male birds such as cardinals and goldfinches tend to be much brighter in color.

"It's important to be aware of that color difference, because it could cause you to misidentify a bird," Sweeney said. "Mostly, the males get the brighter color."

To attract birds to your yard during the growing season, plant flowers and vines such as columbine, bee balm, black-eyed Susan, coneflower, milkweed, sunflower and cardinal flower.

Keeping a birdbath or other container filled with water also is helpful in attracting birds, as is providing cover for birds by planting shrubs and trees.

You can learn more about making your yard hospitable to birds, butterflies, bees and other pollinators from the Penn State Extension Master Gardeners, who offer a program to get your yard certified as pollinator friendly. More information is available at ento.psu.edu/pollinators/public-outreach/cert.

Sweeney recommended binoculars that have magnification of at least 7 and a lens diameter of at least 35 millimeters.

"If you haven't had much experience with them, it will take a little time to get used to using binoculars," Sweeney said. "It does help with bird-watching to have a decent pair."

In addition to learning more about different birds and their habits and characteristics, bird-watching tends to generally make people more observant.

"It's one of the things that's nice about birding," Sweeney said. "It makes you mindful and aware of what's around you. We probably could all use a little more of that."

Contact Susan Shelly: life@readingeagle.com.