“Morning has broken, like the first morning,
Black bird has spoken, like the first bird…” Eleanor Farjeon
A very early memory for me is seeing my mom rescue a robin from our basement window well in St. Louis, Missouri. I was probably four years old. I remember the robin sat on her finger and this fascinated me. I held out my finger for the bird to perch on but received a gentle peck.
My next bird memory dates from when I was seven. We lived in Columbus, Indiana, way out in the country. A wire fence enclosed a field behind our house. One morning before school, I inched toward a beautiful red-winged blackbird as it perched on the wire. I got pretty close before he flew away.
A year later we lived in Dayton, Ohio on the edge of a subdivision. I found a killdeer’s speckled egg in a depression of gravel on the ground. Charmed, I took the egg home and wrapped it in the corner of a blanket on my bed to keep it warm and hatch it, then forgot about it. Someone sat down and smashed the egg. I vividly recall how that smelled.
Bird books came and went from the library until I grew up and married. Then a fellow bird lover, Mary Brown, bought me a copy of her favorite ID book, Birds of North America (pictured). She believed it was easier to identify a bird from an illustration rather than a photograph, and she was right. When I see a new bird, I note the date and sometimes the place beside the illustration. I saw my most recent new bird last week when a flock of golden-crowned kinglets visited my black oak tree. This week, I’ve seen a pair of wild turkey and some kind of unidentifiable owl flying through deep dusk on Good Friday.
Would it surprise you to know that many Amish are avid birders? In fact, Adams County, Ohio holds an annual Amish Bird Symposium complete with guest speakers, live birds, and vendors of birding equipment. The event was held in early March. If you’re interested, read this article, complete with an adorable photo of young Amish girls with binoculars.
You see, bird watching is an activity in which the whole family may participate, and what’s more Amish than whole families spending time together? No special equipment is needed, although I do own a cheap pair of binoculars. A bird book is helpful, but eNature.com is an excellent online site; here’s the link for the Northern Cardinal. Often the only way to identify birds is by their distinctive songs. At the eNature link for the cardinal, there’s a button to listen to the cardinal’s song, but there are also apps that identify bird songs. They work much like Shazam for popular music; just click and point at the song source, and in a few seconds, the identification is complete.
The wonderful thing about bird watching is the birds come to you. Birds are everywhere and you can indulge your hobby any time. It’s fun to spot new birds in their winter habitat, as with this Great Blue Heron I spotted in Florida. I saw my first heron as we canoed the Mad River in Ohio on August 6, 1983; it was startling to round the bend and confront a four foot tall bird! Umberto, our resident ruby-throated hummingbird (I guess she is rightly Umberta), is small but mighty, crossing the Gulf of Mexico non-stop in about 18-20 hours to winter in Mexico.
If you feed the birds, bird watching takes on a whole new dimension. We see fearless and acrobatic black-capped chickadees, slate-colored juncos, noisy blue jays, and many more, such as the red-tailed hawk who treats the feeder like a fast food joint and often eats when we do. Another way to feed the birds is to plant flowers like bachelor buttons, because the seeds attract American Goldfinches.
Most of my bird sightings have come from my own back yard, but sometimes we visit a nature preserve nearby. A couple of summers ago, I spotted a Bobolink there (pictured above—black below, light head). Sometimes my husband, a golfer, gets in on the act. He spotted an American Redstart on the golf course years before I saw one. I recorded the sighting with his initials until I could add my own sighting four years later, almost to the day.
So get out there and get busy, because the early bird catches the worm. No, really! I’ve seen him do it. Tell me, what’s your favorite bird and why?
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