Bird watching, like any hobby, can become quite complicated. For example, many folks prefer to be called birders. In the United Kingdom they call themselves “twitchers.” On top of that, the technical name for those who study birds is ornithologist.
However, watching birds is relatively easy. You can be a successful birder just by walking trails. As you get more experience you will find that different birds live in various types of shrubbery and terrain. Like humans, wild birds have likes and dislikes about where they live and what they eat. Some forage on the ground and some catch insects as they fly. Some like to hide in shrubbery and some like trees. So as you walk, scope out the different foliage to see who’s home.
You may want to see them up close and you will yearn for a telescope of some kind. Basic 7 x 35 power binoculars start at about $25. Then, when you get confused about identifying what lots of us jokingly call “the little brown bird” or LBB, you will probably buy yourself a wild bird guide. The Peterson guide, as good as any in the bookstore, starts about $10. This gear is easily carried in a small and lightweight fanny pack, leaving your arms free as you walk.
Let’s start with some likely sightings flying over you or sitting in a tree.
Usually you’ll spot some crows. These large black birds are fascinating to watch. For one thing, like ants, they are gifted with organization talents and seem to follow leaders. Many experts have written articles on the meanings of their system of calls. A group of crows will form up in a flock and attack a hawk that has invaded its territory. This “mobbing” is probably to defend nesting sites. You will only see this if the hawk is fairly large as small hawks can maneuver quickly enough to fight the swarming crows.
As you look at the crow remember what we know about this bird. It is one of the smartest animals in the world. It has the ability to make and use tools, often considered a trait only of humans. The family of the American crow includes Jackdaws, Jays, Ravens and Rooks. Most of these have been characters in stories and fables since ancient times.
You might observe some Canada geese. These are the large birds that fly in chevron formations, some all the year, but most in the colder months when they come south from Canada. Walk a little faster and you might see them land in a nearby field or pond for their lunch. This is spectacular as you see them come in, their wings cupped. They enter the water gracefully with hardly a ripple as they settle in and begin paddling around using their web feet. Canada geese can be pretty big birds. One of this species weighed in at 24 pounds with a wingspan of 7.3 feet.
Pretty soon, in the trees and shrubs around you you’ll hear some excited chatting. The source could be a finch, a sparrow or a wren, as they all have similar fussing sounds. You can be sure it’s one of the wren family if the bird sports up thrust tail feathers. Remember when you are watching to approach quietly, slow if possible. Birds scare easily. Hold still a few moments and they will start calling again so you can spot them.
If you keep an eye on larger trees as you pass, you’ll probably see a little bird heading directly down a tree trunk. This is a nuthatch and sooner or later you’ll hear his call, “yank, yank.” Not a lot of birds do this type of walking up and down as they search for food.
On a nearby tree trunk you likely will hear a rhythmic tapping. It’s one of several woodpecker types that hunt for insects in tree bark. If it is big and loud you’ve found birder treasure. This is a pileated woodpecker, huge and noisy and beautiful.
Chances are good on any day you’ll continue to entertain yourself with new specie sightings. On your computer you can easily check out birds that you spot. Google the description and most times you’ll see your bird up close with all his data. You’ll find sites at Audubon and Cornell University that will show you more birds. You will quickly learn what seasons they appear in your area, what kind of shrubbery they like to sit in, and what they look and sound like. Pretty soon you might want to keep a list of the first day you discovered each new bird. This activity is called by birders “keeping a life list.” After a few years you’ll want to look back at old friends and remember when you met them. Just in case you wanted to know, the current life list record holder has spotted about 9000 different birds.
You can be a happy and accomplished birder without spending any money. Or, you can spend your dollars thoughtfully and buy only equipment you need to enjoy the hobby even more. So, get outside and enjoy birding.