Wednesday, February 24, 2010

The Ultimate Birdwatcher Suit

Like to really have some fun bird-watching?  Then have I got a project for you.


  It’s the ghillie suit!

A ghillie suit (also called a yowie suit) is typically used by soldier or hunters as a highly adaptable type of camouflage.  The ghillie suit can be altered to make you look like virtually any terrain imaginable and help you completely disappear into the foliage. The ghillie suit is particularly well-suited to heavy foliage.

You can make one out of a darker earth colored jump suit or even, better – a camouflaged hunters pants, shirt and floppy fishing or jungle hat.  Here’s how you create your ghillie suit.  This will take some time to make the basic outfit, but once you have it, you can easily add to it when you are in-country to better blend into the local vegetation.

Start by laying out the clothing you are going to use.  Next you’ll need to get some netting.  An old volleyball net works nicely. You don’t want the holes in the net to be too small so that it’s hard to tie stuff to it.

Cut the net out to the shape of and a bit larger than the front and back of the shirt and pants.  For the hat, lay your hat on the ground and cut a circle of netting with a 3 to four foot diameter.

Do one side of the pants and shirt at a time.  Use shoe glue or other type of thick fabric adhesive and apply to the knots in the net at 4 to 6 inch intervals to glue the net to the clothing.  Allow to dry and then take some clear or dark monofilament line and a carpet needle and stitch the net to the suit at each glue point.  Do the front and back of the outfit.  Be sure to cut openings for the zipper and front of the shirt so you can take it on and off.

Next do the same to the hat and leave net dangling around the brim.  When done you’ll have an outfit with a lot of loose netting hanging from it.

Next cut out some rags that are in several dull earth colors.  Make 2 inch wide strips about 12 to 18 inches long.  Start at the bottom and tie a layer at a time to the netting all way round.  The next layer should hang down and overlap the layer above it.  Mix the colors up so you don’t have any large identical color patches.  Intersperse the rags with strings, thick twine and frizzy cord like jute.  You want to tie them on pretty thickly.  For the base layer, use good surgeon or square knots to make sure the pieces stay attached.  These will be more or less a permanent part of the outfit.  Tie rags and strings to the outside of the hood and work your way toward the center.  Tie more camouflage toward the back than the front to prevent the camouflage from impeding your movement.  Tie only a few light bits in front of the hood to prevent impairment of vision.

Next take 2 or three colors of earth drab spray paint and streak the outside of the camouflage rags and twine.  Don’t spray so heavily you soak the fabric.  Make light striations like streaks of sunlight playing over brush.

Next you need to remove the man-made smells of glue and fabric. You should leave the suit out in the grass for a few nights; maybe drag it through the woods or toss it in the lake and let it dry on the clothesline.  Be careful not to damage the suit, but give it enough seasoning to hide the human smells.

To adapt the suit to local terrain, grab your binoculars, ghillie suit and hood (don’t put it on yet) bird book, several dozen foot long pieces of dark string or twine and a pencil and strike out for your hidey hole.  You might want a backpack for all this stuff.

As you go, keep an eye out for bits of natural materials you can tie to the netting to make you look like the local terrain.  If you hide in a patch of flowers, you might want to make yourself into a loose bouquet. In the grass, tie stalks of grass all over your outfit. One soldier told me he once hid in a town dump by tying bits of garbage to himself so that he looked like a trash pile.  When you get to your hiding place, tie on all the stuff you found, slip on the suit and melt back into the foliage.

The suit uses three dimensional features like branches, leaves and grass to break up your outline. The ghillie suit fools the eye into not seeing patterns. Keep it loose and it will even move in the wind like the nearby bushes.  Be sure to tie things securely so your suit doesn’t make too much noise if you need to move a little.

Properly done, you’ll frighten the wits out of passersby when you, dressed as a trail-side bush suddenly stand up and say, “Lovely weather we’re having.”  You’ll frighten the wits out of birds too.  Properly done, though, they’ll never know you are there. Who knows they may try to build a nest on your shoulder.


  • Be sure and shake out any bits of flotsam and jetsam you plan to add to your suit.  Make sure you don’t add any unwelcome critters.  Nothing spoils the illusion more than having a scorpion crawl up your trousers and send you leaping skywards.
  • Watch out when adding vines.  You don’t want to wrap yourself in poison ivy, poison sumac or poison oak.  This will make for an uncomfortable afternoon of birding!

* Photograph:  (c) 2009 by Chamal N. under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License, Version 1.2 or any later version published by the Free Software Foundation; with no Invariant Sections, no Front-Cover Texts, and no Back-Cover Texts. A copy of the license is included in the section entitled "GNU Free Documentation License".

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