What is the best monocular for bird watching? Well, we have the answer to that question and a whole lot more for you in our guide below. Monoculars are great for birders who want to do some wildlife viewing on hikes. Instead of carrying a heavy pair of binos around your neck, a compact monocular can slip right into your pocket or pack without weighing you down.
Also, backpackers and travelers who want optics for birding during their travels are perfect candidates for monoculars. In this guide, we condensed our picks down to the best of the best. You’ll find alpha glass, compact monoculars for travel, and our top night vision monocular for bird watching. In other words, we supplied you with everything you need. On top of that, we chose the top glass in each price category to satisfy everyone’s needs.
Before we unveil our top picks, let’s quickly go over several specs to consider when choosing a birdwatching monocular. This way, you get in the right mindset before browsing the reviews.
How to Choose the Best Monocular for Bird Watching
- Lens Quality – The most expensive part of almost all optics is the lens. For this reason, the brightest, clearest glass will almost always be the most expensive. Additionally, alpha glass is never made in China. The top optics brands in the world mostly operate in Europe with domestic factories and over a century of experience. Consequently, these are the brands to check out first for the best image resolution with edge-to-edge clarity and no chromatic aberration.
- Magnification – It’s important to match your objective lens diameter to your magnification, which also plays into the next point, which is FOV. Typically, good bird watching monoculars range in magnification from 8X to 12X. However, the higher you go the higher you also want to go with your objective lens size and exit pupil for comfortable viewing. Additionally, it’s wise to consider mounting a 12X monocular to avoid shaky images. 8X magnification is the most suitable for handheld use.
- FOV – Higher quality lenses – such as field flattener lenses – with premium coatings are able to squeeze out the widest FOVs at higher magnifications. The main takeaway here is to avoid monoculars with high magnification and narrow FOVs. As a result, you’re able to catch birds on the fringes and not miss those epic moments.
- Size & Weight – For this point, consider where and how you plan to use your monocular the most. If you’re not bringing it out of the house, it’s easier to get away with choosing a larger model. If your goal is to find a compact monocular for birding while hiking or on your travels, then pay closer attention to these specs.
- Warranty & Brand Trustworthiness – The best monocular brands offer lifetime warranties or five-year warranties at a minimum. One or two-year warranties on optics are a thing of the past.
So, with those thoughts in mind, let’s get to the fun part!
Best Bird Watching Monocular Reviews
Under the following reviews, you’ll find all the information you need to get acquainted with each model before making your final decision. Also, we ordered the list starting with our overall top pick down to the best night vision monocular for birding.
#1) Swarovski dG Digital Long Range Monocular
Built specifically for the most avid birders on the planet, it doesn’t get any better than the Swarovski dG monocular. First, if you’re unfamiliar with Swarovski, the company is one of the leaders in optics, alongside Leica and Zeiss. Unlike Leica and Zeiss, Swarovski operates out of Austria rather than Germany. Additionally, Swarovksi has a dedicated optics line aptly named Swarovski Optik.
Now, let’s explore what makes the dG or “Digital Guide” a special monocular for birding. First, expect top-notch clarity and color fidelity from the coated roof prism in this model. Swaro added its special phase-correcting SwaroBright coating for better contrast and its SwaroTop anti-reflective coating for optimal light transmission. After that, the body is rock-solid with an IP67 waterproof rating, and the SwaroDur protective exterior lens coatings for scratch resistance & easy cleaning.
Outside of optics, the dG elevates itself by adding a 13MP digital camera to the mix with WiFi connectivity. With this feature, you’re able to connect directly to the Merlin Bird ID app for quick identification and sharing. Lastly, the integrated reticle allows you to easily focus on the bird of interest, and the 357ft/1000 yards FOV & 8X magnification give you more than enough room to scan large areas for your favorite birds & wildlife.
- Crystal-clear images with no blurring or chromatic aberration
- Seamless integration with the Merlin app for quick identification
- IP67 waterproof and dust protection rating
- Extra-wide 357ft/1000 yards FOV
- Optimal 8X magnification
- Built-in 13MP camera for capturing images and video
- Share images with up to 5 people in the same group
- Auto shut-off after 15 minutes to conserve battery life
- 10-year optics warranty and 2-year electronics warranty
- 1280×720 max video resolution
- Larger than a compact model (5.75″ x 4.41″ x 2.36″ dimensions and 19.4 oz weight)
- The highest cost of the models in our guide
#2) Leica Silverline Monocular
Another alpha monocular for birdwatching is Leica’s Silverline Monovid or the standard Monovid if you’re not a fan of the Silverline style. First, the clear advantage of this monocular over Swaro’s is its compact size. Weighing just 4 oz, this is one of the lightest birding monoculars you’ll find. Additionally, despite being compact, it delivers the best optics in an 8×20.
The roof prism lens with Leica’s AquaDura & HDC coatings is built to last and deliver exceptional image resolution. Also, the fact that the Silverline carries a waterproof rating down to 16.5′ with nitrogen filling equals fog-proof performance in all weather conditions. Next, it’s important to note that this model does not have a reticle. If you prefer an uninhibited view, then Leica is the better choice for you than Swaro.
Next, the FOV really impresses us in such a compact unit at 331ft/1000 yards. Certainly, that’s a spec you won’t find on budget glass, and even if you did, chances are it’s not going to deliver the same edge-to-edge clarity as Leica. Finally, the package includes a high-quality leather case with a nifty silent magnetic fastener and a close-up lens for detailed close-range observations.
- Lightweight at just 4 oz
- Waterproof & fog-proof performance
- HD optical performance with impressively sharp views
- Better for travel and hiking than Swaro’s model
- Good performance in low-light conditions
- Limited lifetime warranty and 3-year Leica Passport warranty
- Our top choice for backpackers and hiking
- Wide 331ft/1000 yards FOV
- No front lens cover included (eyepiece only)
- Using the close-up lens might feel awkward at first
#3) Gosky 12×55 High Definition Monocular Telescope
Now, for backyard birdwatching, this Gosky model is the best monocular telescope for bird watching on a budget. Outside of backyard birdwatching, at 1 lb and 6.95″ long, it’s definitely possible to travel with this monocular. However, if you want something that slips into your pocket while you hike, this isn’t it.
Beyond its size, we were impressed to find a BAK-4 prism on a monocular in this price range. Having said that, it’s important not to expect it to perform like a BAK-4 on a more well-known optics brand. Additional highlights of this model are the tripod-adapter socket, focus knob for one-handed adjustments, and the wide objective lens w/ high-power magnification. This blend of a larger objective lens and more magnification allows you to catch birds at longer ranges without sacrificing much FOV.
As for the specs, the FOV is an acceptable 325ft/1000yds, good eye relief at 18mm, and a fairly generous exit pupil of 4.2 mm. Also, eyeglass wearers will find value here since the eyecups are adjustable. All in all, this is a good budget monocular telescope for birding that’s not quite as portable as our previous pick or our next pick.
- Tripod mounting socket
- Includes a phone mount for capturing images and videos
- BAK-4 prism for better overall image quality and performance in low-light conditions
- Lightweight enough to travel with at 1 lb
- Focus knob for one-handed operation
- More than acceptable clarity for the money
- Our top pick for backyard bird watching
- Nitrogen-purged & Waterproof
- Lifetime warranty if registered
- Make no mistake, this is budget quality compared to Swaro and Leica
- 12X is not easy for everyone to hold steady without shaking
- Larger than other models in this guide
#4) Vortex 8×25 Solo Compact Monocular
The best compact monocular for bird watching that suits just about every budget is Vortex’s Solo Compact. Essentially, this is a budget version of Leica’s Monovid. Vortex is one of our favorite optics brands. While not as old and established as Swaro and Leica, Vortex is our favorite budget alternative to those brands. The company manufactures a wide range of hunting optics, and its monoculars are great for a variety of activities.
First, you know you’re getting a rugged, durable piece of equipment when you choose the Solo compact. Second, the Solo Compact is ultra-lightweight at just 5.6 oz, making it the second lightest in our guide behind Leica. Third, the impressively wide FOV of 378ft/1000 yards is a spec worthy of your consideration. However, the downside lies in the lens.
The reason the Solo Compact is so affordable is the non-HD lens. Comparatively, you won’t find the premium coatings for edge-to-edge clarity and impressive color fidelity. Having said that, the fully multi-coated lens does produce some of the brightest and clearest images you’ll find offered in this price range. Lastly, Vortex offers the best warranty service in the biz with its VIP lifetime warranty.
- Rugged waterproof & fog-proof construction
- Extra-wide 378ft/1000 yards FOV
- Compact & lightweight, perfect for birding while traveling and hiking
- Vortex VIP lifetime warranty
- The most affordable model in our guide at the time of this writing
- Easier to hold steady at 8X
- Made in China
- The adjustment may feel stiff to you
- You might notice chromatic aberration in some lights
#5) Bushnell Equinox Z2 Digital Night Vision Monocular
Our favorite night vision monocular for nocturnal wildlife viewing and observing owls is Bushnell’s Equinox Z2. Both Equinox Z and Z2 are good choices. Yet, at the time of the writing, the Z2 only costs a bit more, which makes it our first choice. With this monocular, you get the advantage of being able to view and record in 1080p video quality. Also, there are multiple sizes available including 3×30, 4.5×40, and 6×50.
Depending on how close you plan to get to your subject, there are options for you. With the 6×50 version, you’re able to spot subjects over 1,000 ft away in total darkness with the integrated IR illuminator. Regarding video recording, there are both onboard storage and video streaming options. For onboard storage, the Equinox Z2 features a MicroSD card slot and accepts cards up to 32GB.
For video streaming directly to your phone, simply install the Bushnell Equinox app. In addition to streaming, the app gives you remote control of the Z2 from your phone for tripod-mounted viewing. Finally, the biggest drawback to consider is the weight. At 27 oz, the 6×50 is the heaviest monocular in our guide.
- Bushnell 5-year warranty
- Video recording and streaming options
- View birds and wildlife up to 1000 ft away
- Remote control use from your phone within the app
- Zoom feature w/ remote control from your phone
- The latest firmware update allows for USB power
- Better for use on a tripod than handheld
- Instructions could be clearer, there’s definitely a bit of a learning curve
- Runs on AA batteries (we prefer using rechargeable AAs with this model)
When selecting the best monocular for bird watching, there are two routes to take: budget and premium. For premium glass, Swarovski and Leica are the clear winners in that category. Swaro’s dG is the most advanced monocular with the birder in mind. Integration with the Merlin app and image sharing with your birding mates makes it a special device. As for Leica, the Silverline or standard Monovid is the best compact birding monocular for crystal-clear image quality.
Once you step into the budget aisle, we really like what Vortex, Hawke Optics, and Opticron have to offer. We did include the Gosky model in our guide because it’s a popular budget optic among birders, and it does bring value to the table for the money. Finally, night vision monoculars are expensive for good quality. For example, the best thermal monocular for hunting goes for about four thousand bucks. For this reason, we chose Bushnell’s Equinox Z2 for birding because it gives you good quality without breaking the bank.