Greetings and welcome in to Zero528!
As promised, this edition of my blog continues the theme of birdwatching (see previous post to discover binocular fundamentals).
Billion Dollar Industry
Make no mistake, birdwatching as a hobby can be tremendously rewarding. It has also become an extremely popular pastime – generating a Billion dollar industry.
According to a US Fish & Wildlife report (2013), information on the participation and expenditure patterns of 47 million birders in 2011 – the breakdown is as follows:
Trip-related and equipment-related expenditures associated with birding generated nearly $107 billion in total industry output, 666,000 jobs, and $13 billion in local, state, and federal tax revenue. This impact was distributed across local, state, and national economies.
Simply “Make” the Time
As a Visual Merchandising Lead at L.L. Bean, I still make the time to use my wildlife ecology background by actively participating in the joy of birdwatching. The beauty of birdwatching is that it is NOT a requirement to be a scientist…ANYONE can use their basic observational skills to discover and question the wonders found in nature.
1. Binoculars – 8x 42 and camera
Best for serious wildlife viewing and for use on boats. Full-size binoculars capture more light and perform better in low-light situations. They usually provide steadier images and a wider field of view, so they’re great for birdwatching, but they’re generally too big and heavy for backpacking.
2. Field Guide – Birds, Songbirds, Eastern NA
Many field guides to birding exist. Here is a list of those most commonly used:
• Peterson’s Field Guide to the Birds of Eastern and Central (or Western) North America
• Sibley Birds East – Field Guide to Birds of Eastern or Western North America
• National Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Birds: Eastern or Western Region
3. Field Notebook and pencils/Rite in the Rain pens –
Now is the time to become a Naturalist – ha! Having a notepad and pen/pencil handy will assist in determining various species. Draw a small pic of the bird in question and take lots of notes – more on this later.
• L.L. Bean Field Notebook
• Rite in the Rain Notepad
• Pencils and/or Rite in the Rain pens
4. Water –
Remember to hydrate before, during, and after taking to the field.
5. Backpack –
A backpack is a great way to carry essentials noted above, including a CLIF® bar or mix of nuts and dried fruit.
When, Where, and How to “birdwatch.”
Have fun with the decision to go birding. Communing with nature is always good for the soul and can be a rewarding and enjoyable hobby. I like to begin my early morning having already predetermined where I’m headed to “go birding” and what species I’m hoping to view. Perhaps I want to see some waterfowl…well, I best head to where the water is – a lake or large pond/stock tank or river. Perhaps I’m interested in viewing some neotropical migrant warblers. Well then, the timing of year must be right (early May for birds returning from South America) – brushy cover near a field/stream might work, and it could even be in an urban setting.
NOTE: I have previously documented 63 species (over a two-year period) from my backyard while living in a somewhat urban setting in Southwest Missouri.
Firstly, to add to the enjoyment of an outing I note the following data in my field notebook: (also see SAMPLE NOTES below):
• Date – (e.g., 02/09/2017)
• Location – (e.g., USFS Dakota Prairie National Grasslands)
• Time – (e.g., 0600)
• Temperature – (e.g., 28° C)
• Weather – (e.g., winds S/SW @ 10 kph)
ANYTIME OF THE YEAR! The best times to bird are early mornings and later afternoon…feeding times for the birds. Don’t forget about spring migration (early May returning to breeding grounds) – one of the best times to view birds that are “just passing through.”
Birding can be conducted nearly anywhere. Set up a bird feeder outside the window at home and as the adage goes – If you build it they will come. Other birding areas include:
1. Wildlife refuges
2. Nature centers
3. State or city parks
4. Cemeteries – yes, especially if they are old and kind of grown over a bit
Quietly and patiently- look and listen – use all observational skills. Alone or in small groups is best. I’ve found that when I’m still, the birds will come to me and/or reveal themselves – Look up, look down. Have the notebook and pencil handy…
Listen carefully for the bird songs or calls. Follow the bird song (auditory clues) to discover the species responsible until it is no longer necessary to positively identify the bird visually – could take multiple times.
Once a bird has been spied, look closely and note the following Four Keys to Identification:
1. Size and Shape – Jot down notes immediately by observing the bird’s basic topography:
Shape of body
Shape of bill (mandible)
2. Color Pattern – Pay close attention to:
Note any striking features when drawing the bird
3. Habitat – Keep in mind the location. And, consider the bird’s behavior within in its habitat (home):
Near the shore (river or lake)?
4. Behavior –
Does the bird flutter from its perch to catch an unsuspecting prey and then quickly return to its perch again?
Does it forage on the ground?
Is it searching for insects on/in the bark of the tree?
Does it have a nest or is it a cavity-nester?
Does it bob its tail?
NOTE: Songs and Calls
• songs – used in breeding season
• calls – used all year, general communication
• alarm calls – predator nearby
A Page From My Personal Field Notebook
Date: February 2, 2013
Location: Busiek State Forest and Wildlife Area
Time: 6:55 am – 9:00 am Temp: 27°F – Weather: wind-E-9 mph, 63% humidity, partly clear skies, beautiful morning – watched sunrise against cloud cover.
Bird (common name) and Habitat
Tufted Titmouse – woodlot/edge
American Crow – in the distance
Northern Cardinal – woodlot/edge
Carolina Wren – shrubby cover edge/near glade
American Robin – woodlot/edge
Song Sparrow – woodlot/edge
*Pileated Woodpecker – forest/woodlot (in the distance)
Red-bellied Woodpecker – woodlot
Blue Jay – woodlot
Yellow-rumped Warbler – shrubby cover edge/near glade
*Wild Turkey – woodlot/edge
Downy Woodpecker – woodlot/edge
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker – river bottomland/edge
*Kingfisher – river bottomland (in the distance)
White-breasted Nuthatch – river bottomland/edge
Eastern Bluebird – river bottomland/edge
Carolina Chickadee – river bottomland/edge
White-throated Sparrow – river bottomland/shrubby cover
Brown Creeper – woodlot
*denotes heard but not seen
I got my day started early and arrived at Busiek around 6:45 am. It was a cold morning, but that is the way I like it. Although admittedly, my nose, fingertips, and toes did get cold near the end of my walk. The trailhead said “closed” but that didn’t stop me. I wandered up to what appeared to be a glade restoration project along a south facing slope. It wound around towards the east. The sun popped out just long enough to tease me, and then back behind a cloud. The highlights of the field trip were hearing the Pileated, observing a Red-bellied Woodpecker dominate a Downy/take over the position the Downy was holding, and observing one Yellow-bellied Sapsucker chase another for several minutes forth and back between two trees. It began to sprinkle as I made my way down the east end of the hillside towards the river bottom.
This guide should prove useful when beginning this new found hobby. Additionally, visit allaboutbirds.org for a fantastic resource about ornithology (the scientific study of birds).
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“Enjoy and keep a good thought!” Bob P.
Credit where credit is due:
USFWS. 2013. Birding in the United States: A Demographic and Economic Analysis (PDF)
5 thoughts on “Birdwatching Fundamentals”
These are great tips! Thanks for sharing them 😊
Thank you Midwestern Plant Girl. Enjoy and keep a good thought! Bob
Love this “Bird Talk” I love watching birds and can identify many of the common ones (only 1 scientifically!) . Plan to get into more watching and follow Bob’s plan! It’s great information! Thanks!!
Glad you’re enjoying nature. Thanks for stopping in!
Nice.. you’ve provided great tips for the beginners out there. 🙋🐦