Just What is Birding Anyway?

Most people are familiar with the word bird as a noun, but did you know that bird is also a verb? To bird by definition is to observe or identify wild birds in their habitats. In this post we will take a deeper look at what it really means to bird.

First, I must confess that I am not writing this from the standpoint of an expert. When it comes to birding, I am a real greenhorn — or should I say greenbeak? So if you are a seasoned birder that stumbled onto this blog, I welcome your comments and corrections. If you are new to birding like I am then let’s take this journey together.

The essence of birding is simply watching birds. Anytime you or I stop what we are doing to watch and appreciate a bird in nature, we are birding. But obviously birding enthusiasts go a bit further. I have broken birding down into three categories based on what I have learned about the sport so far: Accomplishment, Identification and Appreciation.

Accomplishment

Birders seek to see as many different species of birds as they can, and most birders keep a record of these sightings. You might be tempted think that recording bird sightings is somewhat obsessive, and you would be right. It is somewhat obsessive. Being obsessive about your passions is a good thing, if it helps you do it better. Faithfully recording bird sightings helps the birder to see what she or he has already accomplished and helps the birder set goals for what comes next. Now if you still think logging birds is too weird then maybe birding is not for you, but don’t get upset if I give you a hard time when I find your list of snakes.

When it comes to recording my bird sightings, I have set a couple ground rules for myself. First, I have decided to only count birds that I observe in nature. Zoos, pet shops, bird cages, etc… do not count. Second, I will only count birds that I have stopped to actually enjoy. Just because I happen to see a bird and know what it is doesn’t mean I am going to rush to write it down. I would not dare to impose these rules on other birders. They are my rules for me. One of the great things about birding is there are no official rules. Everyone is free to play the game the way that they want to.

Identification

One of my favorite things about birding so far is identifying the birds I have observed. It really isn’t as easy as it seems. There is a lot of help out there on the internet, but try describing something you saw to a computer. There are thousands of birds species flying around and many of them look very similar. Some websites are better than others, especially the ones that allow you to collaborate with other birders. I have listed some websites below that have helped me thus far, and if you know of more please comment so I can add them to the list.

Fortunately for a novice like me, birders have been struggling with the identification issue for many years. They have learned to break down the characteristics of a bird, making it easier for someone who has really paid attention to what they saw to narrow down the possibilities. Birders learn to look for things like body shape, wing bars, eye color and much more. They also learn to identify birds by their song or call. The key to identification is careful observation. You have to take the time to take in the whole bird and this always results in a much greater appreciation of the bird you are observing.

Appreciation

In my first post I mentioned how my broken foot pulled me out of the fast pace of city life and allowed me to stop and enjoy nature. I will be back to full speed soon and I am realizing that to keep this up it has to be intentional. Birding won’t just happen. I have to seek it out. I have to plan to go to beach to watch seagulls. I have to be willing to sit a little bit longer in the car when I see finches playing in a nearby puddle. I can’t appreciate birds on the run, and that pause, that re-acquaintance with nature is what I’m after.

I really like birds so I am excited about the opportunity to appreciate their beauty, character and uniqueness. Maybe you like birds too, or maybe you like something else about nature. I encourage you to stop and appreciate it. We have so many things to distract ourselves with today,and most of the time nature is nothing more background music. The world is a ever-changing place, and nature won’t always be the same, but those moments that we choose to stop and enjoy little pieces of it will always stay with us. Don’t miss out on all of those moments.

Until next time,

Greenbeak

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The Broken Foot Birder

I have been fascinated by birds for most of my life, and during the last few years I have flirted with the idea of taking up birding (bird watching) as a hobby. But, like most of my bright ideas, this one remained an idea that stuck in my head but never turned into any real action. Then one day as I was rescuing a small child from the jaws of a rabid alligator, I broke the fifth metatarsal in my left foot. Actually that is a bit of an exaggeration; alligators don’t get rabies. Now back to the story. I broke my foot. Okay. Fine. I was moving a bed downstairs and I missed the last step. The way that my foot was broken isn’t really the point of this post, but it was very painful and I was heroic as I bravely fought back the tears and asked my wife to drive me to the emergency room.

So why am I talking about my broken foot on the first post of my bird blog? The reason is my broken foot was the catalyst that moved the idea of birding from the back of my mind into action. The broken foot kept me still and grounded and forced me out of the fast-paced, “what’s next?” tempo that my life had become. For several weekends all I could do is watch the little slice of the world that was available to be viewed through the sliding glass door in my living room.

My back yard runs into a man-made pond that was carved in between two rows of town houses, but, as I was to find out, just a little bit of water will attract all kinds of life. When you have nothing else to do but sit and watch you really begin to notice things that you wouldn’t otherwise. During those few weeks of watching that pond I saw several species of birds. A King Rail perched on the concrete rim of a drainage pipe scanning the water for fish. Small groups of juvenile White Ibises combed the grassy slopes in search of insects. Muscovy Ducks patrolled yards surrounding the pond, some with ducklings in tow, and some leaving little dropping on my back porch. A Great Egret waded in the shallow waters and then stretched is large white wings and glided away. Chimney Swifts buzzed all around one evening feeding on flying ants, but unfortunately not getting all of them. I also discovered that a lonely American Coot has burrowed a home base in to a grassy hill just yards from my back yard. Altogether I counted nine different species of birds, viewable just outside my window.

The last few weeks have been refreshing and eye-opening and have inspired me to get off the couch and out into nature. If I can see nine different types of birds from my living room just imagine what I will find when I go out looking for more. I have a couple more weeks of until I can walk again, but I already have plans to begin exploring all of the wonderful venues for observing nature that South Florida has to offer. I plan to take pictures and to write about my adventures here. I also hope to get my soon-to-be-six-year-old daughter interested in birding too, but that might be pushing it.

Until Next Time,

The Broken Foot Birder