Bird watching is one of the most popular outdoor recreational activities in the United States. Studies have found that tens of millions of people enjoy watching birds. One reason is birds are accessible to almost everyone. While you can go to faraway places to see rare birds, you don't have to. You can watch our feathered friends from your kitchen window while you drink your morning coffee. While you can invest more time and money into checking birds of your life list and purchasing tools, you can also participate without spending a dime.
I have to admit, I am somewhat of a reluctant birder. Identifying small, moving things from far away has never been a skill of mine. However, birds are growing on me as I get to know each species individually with their own strength, unique behavior and beauty.
I am amazed at the delicate and fragile looks of many birds that live arduous lives. For example, ruby-throated hummingbirds weigh approximately 4 grams but migrate up to 500 miles for the winter.
Installing bird nest boxes is a good way to learn bird behavior.
Photo by Terry LeBaron
Going beyond identification, learning a bird's behaviors make them more fascinating. Seeing them around bird feeders year round, black-capped chickadees may see ordinary and common. However, as I watched this small bird repeatedly peck away at the edge of a bird bander's fingernail, my perspective changed. This bird has spunk, I thought.
Birds can be unexpectedly beautiful. I watched as a female blue-winged teal skidding into a pond. She was a brown, fairly drab duck until she lifted her wings to preen. Then I saw the robin's egg blue feathers on her wing. That was worth getting a look at.
As I learn more about birds I find that sometimes birding together is better than birding alone. Imagine this: You go for a walk alone with binoculars and a field guide. You see a small yellow bird hopping from branch to branch. You start to search for yellow birds in your field guide and soon discover there are a lot. Was there black on it? Maybe it's a goldfinch. But you don't think it looks like the one that comes to your bird feeder. You notice its melodic song. A warbler maybe? Oh, dear. There's a whole page in your field guide titled, "Confusing Warblers." What is that bird? Where did it go?
Now imagine that you sign up for a bird walk offered at your local nature center. You see a yellow bird in the bushes. The walk leader, an experienced birder, points out its bright, all yellow body with reddish brown streaks on its breast. The leader notes there are no marks on the head and puts words to its melodic song. "Sweet, sweet, sweet, I'm so sweet." You now easily find it in your field guide - a yellow warbler. As you continue to walk, your ears become accustomed to the song and you start to see and hear more yellow warblers.
Audubon has a generous group of people, both staff and volunteers, who provide opportunities for beginning, intermediate and advanced birders. If you want to jump into birding, want to learn more or just share in the discovery of what's flying out there, check out Audubon's bird programs this spring. We have a multitude of upcoming opportunities.
The first is our four-week birding series. There will be Wednesday evening birding classes at Audubon starting on April 25 from 7-8:30 p.m. Local birding experts will introduce different birds each week based on their habitat. Each class will be designed as a preparation for a companion walk on the following Saturday from 8-10 a.m. The class will also cover a different birding tool or technology, and the 10 most common birds seen in the chosen habitat.
You can come to the individual class or the walk each week - or both. Or, sign up for the whole series. Each class is $10 for members, $12 for non-member and $5 for children 12 and under.
If you sign up and pay in advance for four or more classes and/or walks, the cost drops to $8 for members and $10 for non-members. You can mix and match lectures with walks to enjoy this discounted price.
We are also gearing up for our bird banding demonstrations on Saturday mornings from April 28 through May 19. Join our merry band of ornithologists between 7-11 a.m. and watch as they capture birds that fly into their nets. They then fit them with a small specially numbered band around their leg to help understand bird populations. Believe me, it is worth the early morning to see birds up close.
Check out our website for additional spring programing. If you are not now, you can be one of the millions who enjoy watching birds this spring. And, hopefully the birds will amaze you too.
Audubon is located at 1600 Riverside Road, just off Route 62 between Warren and Jamestown. The trails are open from dawn until dusk and the center is open Monday to Saturday, 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., and Sunday, 1 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. Visit jamestownaudubon.org for more information or call 569-2345.
Katie Finch is a naturalist at Audubon.