Confessions of a bird nerd

Published 11:17 am Tuesday, May 16, 2023

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Culture tells men that by the time they turn 40, they have two paths they can follow. One is to become an expert in smoking meats. The other is to become an expert in World War Two history. While both of these hobbies are noble endeavors that bore wives to tears, I would like to propose another path. Birding. 

Birding has gained popularity recently due to folks enjoying the outdoors more because of shutdowns and quarantines. Once folks got outside, they started to notice these flying noisemakers with feathers and wanted to know more. 

 My love for birds started at an early age. I have vivid memories of the sun setting on the Appalachians while hummingbirds swarmed the feeders hanging from my grandparents carport. As we sat in the glider, the birds would swoop in with reckless abandon. The deep-red throats on the hummingbirds matched the horizon as the sun sank behind the ridge. That moment stuck in my mind as a four-year-old and I always look forward to the first hummingbird sighting of the year. 

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Now, some 34 years later, I am tempted to sink deeper into the birding world. The equipment needed to bird is basic: eyes and/or ears. 

If you have at least one working eye, you can look for birds. If you are blind, you can listen for them. Birds are extremely accessible to any population. Go outside, sit down, and observe. If you get tired of sitting, take a walk. If you don’t want to go outside, set up a bird feeder outside of your kitchen window. Birds are everywhere and once you start to notice different species, you get excited about finding new ones. 

Birders often keep a “life list” that contains all the species of birds they have seen and where they saw it. Last year in Glacier National Park, I was catching up to my family on a lakeside trail. To my right was a stunning view of snow capped mountains and to my left was a dense forest. I came upon a couple who had their binoculars out looking left. Confused, I asked if they saw a bear. They laughed and admitted to be looking for a bird to add to their life list. 

Intrigued, I asked why they chose this spot. They explained that an app on their phone had picked up the call of this elusive bird while they were hiking. Based on its distinctive song, they knew it was there, and they just had to find it. 

The rest of the hike, I was excited to get a Wi-Fi signal to download the app (Merlin Bird ID) and go deeper into the birding world. 

Birding may not be your thing. Smoking meats and discussing history may be more attractive to you in your free time. At any rate, I know I can bird without ceasing. Right now, as I hear the traffic on Highway 14 rumble, I have heard the call of a cardinal, the chirp of a chickadee and the caw of a crow.  The ease of birding seems more relaxing to me as I age. 

Stressing for 14 hours just to prepare some meat that, at best, will only be as good as the local barbecue joint is for the birds.