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.”