So you have an age old love for birds and every time you see or hear a less common one your heart skips a beat. Bird photography is definitely going to be your next favorite thing.
It usually starts with watching a lot of documentaries, reading or seeing a lot of bird photos before you realize "hey, I could do that!" That's usually how the wonderful journey begins. So to help all you aspiring bird photographers out there, here are a few basic guidelines to help get started.
Bird photographers have a pretty clear idea of what they're after before they go shooting. They generally target one or two species and do everything they can to put themselves in a position where they can encounter those birds. It's very important to know what you're going for so do your homework before you go shooting.
This is the scary part of going into bird photography, and it's often misunderstood by beginners. Let's put a light on the myths. Many bird lovers forget about photographing their favorite animals because they think the necessary gear is way too expensive to even consider it. It's true that ideally you should use 500mm or 600mm prime lens. These lenses generally cost over $10k brand new, and it's easy to understand how that can be restrictive for many bird lovers. But there are far more affordable solutions that can get you started and going strong for a few years. Most camera manufactures have something like a 70-300mm zoom lens in their lineup. These are affordable, good quality, decently fast lenses that can bring a lot of smiles to your face once you learn how to use them correctly.
Also, most enthusiast DSLRs today come with at least 39 AF points and 5 frames/second maximum continuous speed. This kind of combo will get you started and it's great to learn on.
You should probably consider a monopod as well. At 300mm, it's very easy to have your images suffering from camera shake. Monopods are easy to carry, reliable and for the most part affordable.
No matter how much you read about photographing birds, the only true way to become skillful at it is to shoot tons and tons of pictures. Go out and photograph as much as you can. Remember to always use a fast shutter speed, faster than 1/250th. To make things a little easier when you start, try getting close to the targeted species and get a few static shots. Remember that getting close to birds in their natural habitat is no easy business. Forget about wearing bright colors or unnatural looking clothes. Some photographers prefer camouflage clothing, others just settle for natural colors.
Whatever approach you choose, remember that it's important not to draw attention to yourself if you want to have a chance at taking impressive close-up shots. After you take a few good looking static shots, it's time to try your hand at capturing birds in flight. This will be particularly challenging and it will require a lot, and I do mean a lot, of practice. But the more you work at it, the better you'll become so only you decide how good a bird photographer you really want to be.
If you want to learn from the best in the business, I strongly suggest attending the 19th Annual Space Coast Bird and Wildlife Festival in January 20-25 in Titusville, FL. It's one of the biggest events for bird and nature lovers. There will be photography classes, workshops, field tours and much more exciting stuff.