Birds R Us!
Updated: Aug 28
by Dr. Ron Bright
My formative birding years were outside a small village in southeastern Ohio (Appalachia). I lived on a small farm 3 miles from the nearest village, so I seldom had any interactions with my peers except during the months of school. I had a ‘void’ to fill and doing my mother’s house chores was not enough to keep me entertained. The natural world, therefore, became my major interest and birds in particular. I distinctly remember seeing a bunch of old folks roaming around my city park with their bird book and binoculars and often commenting what a bunch of nerds they were to have this as a hobby. Now “I are one”! However, I refuse to wear checkered shirts with striped Bermuda shorts while pursuing my hobby. When the time was right, I distinctly remember telling my mom and dad that I already knew about the “birds” just concentrate on the “bees”!
Why birds? Well, because they are so darn accessible and hang around trees and vegetation in close proximity to where I hiked about as a kid not to mention just outside our windows. Birding can be thought of as a practical and enjoyable exercise much like fly fishing, guitar playing, singing, or having a ‘religious’ experience in the natural world. One positive thing that has emerged from the Covid pandemic is a huge increase in backyard birding! I have lost count of the number of times I’ve gone to my local bird hobby store and not found what I needed due to the huge demand by ‘new’ birders (‘panbirders’).
Birding to me is always a ‘new’ unfolding experience because I am discovering something novel even about birds I see frequently at my back yard feeder. What is really exciting is initially thinking the bird you spotted with your naked eye is one of your birds you see often; then after grabbing binoculars (‘bins”) discovering it’s actually a black-headed grosbeak and not a run of the mill robin. This is a thrill, especially with the added bonus that the newly sited bird might be a ‘lifer’. A ‘lifer’ is a bird that you’ve seen and identified for the first time, and most of us keep a list of “lifers” like any nerd would do.
My passion for birding far outweighs my ability to identify many birds, especially warblers. When I’m with a group of hard-core birders, I can always take refuge in the fact that I have many more ‘lifers’ to gain than most of them because they’ve ‘seen ‘em all’!
Nearly every serious birder has what is called a “spark” bird meaning the bird that finally pushed you over the threshold to want to take up birding seriously. My “spark” bird is the American Kestrel (aka sparrow hawk). I have been enamored with them ever since I first laid some bins on them and saw what gorgeous colors and patterns they possessed.
The kestrel is the most ubiquitous raptor in North America and is quite small. These hawks are year around inhabitants over much of North America, and I often see them perched on electric lines along the road searching for their prey which consists of small mammals, birds, insects and reptiles, especially lizards. They are fun to watch as they hover above their prey like a helicopter and suddenly plunge to the ground to seize dinner with their talons.
I am always amused at how my backyard feeders full of sparrows, finches, and chickadees suddenly become completely empty from time to time. Surveying the yard will often result in the discovery of a kestrel looking for a quick meal on the bird feeder buffet. When you see this bird closely for the first time, you will appreciate all of the beautiful colors this bird possesses.