I’ve loved birds as long as I can remember, and the first specific bird I remember seeing in the wild was pretty impressive – a Great Horned Owl, which flew down onto the neighbor’s lawn in front of me while I was out trick-or-treating one Halloween when I was about five years old. Later, I had additional experience with birds because of my mother. She owned an African gray parrot, and was also in the habit of picking up baby birds which had fallen from their nests, and raising them in the house. So, we had house finches and scrub jays as family members at various times during my childhood. Later, as a volunteer at the Los Angeles Zoo in the mid-1980s I got to have hands-on experience with birds (and other animals) when I helped give educational talks to the public. My favorite was Ty, a barn owl.
I didn’t start officially “watching” birds, though, until I was an adult. It began in Indiana. When Kevin and I moved there in 1991, one of the first things I did at our new home was put up a bird feeder in the backyard. When birds showed up to eat the food, I couldn’t remember having seen most of them before (mostly because I hadn’t – there is a different variety of backyard birds in that part of the country from the ones I grew up seeing in southern California). Being the way I am, I don’t like seeing things and not being able to put names to them, so I got myself a bird book or two, just so I could identify the cardinals and blue jays and robins and nuthatches and woodpeckers and finches, etc.
Then I started getting a bit obsessed. During spring migration, I would sleep downstairs on the couch, so that as soon as I awoke, I could look out the window and see who was at the feeder. It was on one of these mornings that I saw my first rose-breasted grosbeak, whose spot of bright red on the breast led me to think it was injured, until I saw the picture in the field guide and realized it was supposed to look that way. Another thing I learned from the field guide is that there are a LOT of birds – a lot more than I was seeing in my backyard, and I started getting itchy to see more of them. This led me to join the local Aubudon chapter, and I started going out on field trips. Birding with other people was wonderful – I learned so much about the birds, and other things in the habitats. Soon, I could walk out into the forest, close my eyes, and identify all the birds around me just by listening to their calls.
Since then, I have never give up my love of birding. Partly, I think, because birds are beautiful and interesting and quite worthy of being watched. Birding is also fun as an activity because it lends itself well to all levels of skill – it’s possible to have a great time identifying birds on your very first day out in the field, with no experience whatsoever, because there are plenty of birds that are really easy to identify. Beyond that, there is a large section of birds who are a bit more challenging, but with some practice can usually be identified. And then there are birds who are nearly impossible for whatever reason: similarity to related species, weird juvenile or seasonal plumage, or habits which make them difficult to spot in the wild. So, even experts who have been birding for decades can still be challenged by this activity.
Right now, my “life list” (the list of all the different species of birds I’ve seen in the wild) is somewhere in the vicinity of 670 birds. I’d like to improve it, but lately it’s been hard for me to find the time and get motivated to get out into the field. But that will pass. It always does, and then I’ll be out wandering through the woods – or the beach, or the wetlands, or the park, or out on a boat in Monterey Bay – with my camera, seeing what gorgeous little feathery friends will be there to greet me.
(Cross-posted from Teacup Rex)