An Apprentice Bird Watcher

turtle doveI’m a late-blooming bird watcher. In the past, I only noticed large birds I could easily identify: ostriches, turkeys, eagles — penguins, too, if I’d ever seen one.

I chuckled at folks who glued binoculars to their heads and whispered worshipfully to one another about any bird they encountered.

My idea of bird watching was driving down the road, crunching Cheetos, singing along to Creedance Clearwater Revival, and pointing out big things with wings.

Then the years passed, and flower gardening caught my fancy, increasing my yard time and making me aware of the birds that fussed around the feeders my husband maintained: birds familiar from my childhood like sparrows, turtledoves, and finches. Cheerful souls, these regulars at Joel’s Diner enjoyed any food offered and didn’t sulk when he ran out of food or forgot to open.

purple finchSoon I began to notice different birds that occasionally dropped by for visit or snack. Joel, more advanced in ornithology, labeled them for me: chickadees, siskins, downy woodpeckers, cedar waxwings. When I sighted my first goldfinch, I excitedly announced that I’d seen a canary in our aspen tree. Joel looked at me askance.

My interest grew. I started watching for newcomers, consulting bird books, and distinguishing calls. I even ignored my husband’s dismay at my difficulties with binoculars — “Janet, turn them around. You’re looking through the wrong end,” — and practiced until I could focus in and locate birds faster than I could say two-and-twenty blackbirds baked in a pie.

Before long, I was peering through binoculars and providing detailed descriptions to anyone who would listen: “It’s blue on top, sort of a dirty white underneath. It has white and black on its wings, and on its tail too. Oh, it has one of those crest things. You know, it looks a lot like a blue jay.…..I think it is a blue jay!” I was hooked.

chickadeeOther than the amazing hummingbirds that like the bee balm and honeysuckle we plant for them, orioles and grosbeaks are the flashiest birds to spend extended time with us. I feel bad about the name grosbeaks have to carry around—I know how I’d feel if I’d gone though life being called Shortnose.

Several months ago, I read a passage that captured how I feel watching birds. The author, whose name I’ve forgotten, said that looking at birds takes away our sadness, puts things in perspective, and returns us to nature.

I intend to keep practicing my new passion until I’m a full-fledged bird watcher. With time and commitment, someday, perhaps, I’ll be able to casually tell others, “Yup, I’m a birder.”



14 thoughts on “An Apprentice Bird Watcher

  1. I love watching birds, however, I seldom know the name of the bird I’m watching. I have learned a few, but mostly I just love to watch them do their thing, unless their thing is trying to kill one of our chickens. At that point the Red Tailed Hawk is not my friend.


    • I, too, mainly enjoy their antics, especially the novice flyers that struggle with landing and perching. I also enjoy watching the adolescents; they are as confused about appropriate behavior and essential grooming as many teenagers.


  2. Yup, I’m a birder. I took an ornithology class in college and have been hooked ever since. I once participated in a dawn to dusk bird-a-thon in New Jersey on Migratory Bird Day. It was a blast—hunting for birds all over the state from beaches to woodlands to farmer’s fields.

    A few days ago I was delighted to notice Rufous Hummingbirds using our feeder; they’re beautiful.

    Keep up the bird-watching, Janet!


  3. LOL. Good read, and funny, too. As a fly-fisherman, I spend a lot of time looking closely at bugs. I sometimes tie a red bandanna on my head so the hummingbirds will come close and look at me.:)


  4. Nice Post Janet- when I worked in Nth Manitoba our kitchen overlooked the Nelson River below a power dam. We had an old Ukranian cook who watched the pelicans all day. They flew up to the dam outfall, drifted in a pelicanish raft down to the bend,and flew back, all summer, all day. “Dem lacy birds” the chain smoking old cook would grouse, completly idle her self. There was a higher wisdom in those pelicans, as there is in birding..Yup, you are a birder, thanks.


  5. Wonderful! Birds can be so exciting. I am absolute in love with the sparrows in my backyard who are never tired in caring for their children. Adorable. Thank you for sharing your “views”. I hope the birds appreciate and sing for you sweetly!


  6. Sparrow families delight me as well. I love the way the fledglings shake with excitement when a parent approaches with food and, when well fed, play follow the leader with one another as they explore our yard.


  7. Bird watching has added another level of enjoyment to my yards, especially during migration. It’s the only time I see grossbeaks and flickers. A speckled towhee was left behind once and hung out with the spararows for two years.

    I’ve made an effort to identfy species by their call so even when hidden I enjoy knowing who’s singing or chirping. It took many years before I could convince a little grandson that he was hearing a dove, not an owl.

    There can be a dark side, though, to bird watching.. One June I saw a mother quail with tiny babies under her spread wings and two bluejays pulling several babies away even as the male quail tried to fight them off. Within days I saw the same jays destroy a dove nest and take the babies. Thinking I’d seen the worst, I had to watch again as crows flew in and out of my giant cedars, attacking and destroying the blue jay’s nest. Arrrgh….it was a gruesome bird eat bird summer.

    Against bird watching protocol, I chase jays and crows by clapping my hands and shouting “you’re not welcome here”. Otherwise, the birds and I live in peace

    Thank you again for another fun post and the enjoyable comments that follow.


    • I, too have experienced the dark side of birding. Joel and I happened to be watching a goldfinch on our feeder when a hawk fell from the sky, knocked it to the ground, then pinned and pecked it before flying away with its dead body. An awesome sight, but also sad. I’m glad you read and enjoy the comments of others, Mercy.


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