7 Tips for Watching Birds During the Spring Lockdown

Here are some principles you can apply to any form of nature study.

They are provided by David Sibley. A birder and artist, he is author of What It’s Like to Be a Bird, from which this is adapted.

Credit…Illustrations by Benjamin Flouw

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We find comfort in nature. The psychological benefits are well documented: Spending time with grass and trees and birds, even through a window, makes us feel happier and more relaxed. It’s inspiring and reassuring to remember that birds are migrating north right now, as they have for millenniums. The earth turns, and birds follow the rhythms of daily and yearly cycles.

One of the most exciting things about bird-watching is that birds are so mobile. They fly around their home territory. They migrate across the globe every spring and fall. You can watch the same tree and see different birds every day and each season. In these days when travel is restricted, when a lot of experiences are not possible, birds bring the experience to you.

You don’t have to identify the species, although there is a wealth of information available if you know a bird’s name. The most important thing is just to notice birds, slow down and really watch them. I’m writing about bird-watching here, but these same seven principles apply just as well to any form of nature study. Take some time to really look at a tree, and compare it to other trees. Lie down on a lawn and study the plants and insects that you can see.

Here are [three of] seven tips to get started:

Notice birds

If you’re not already a bird-watcher, you probably don’t really notice birds, but they are around us all the time, even in a city. With a little practice you’ll be amazed at what you can see. One of the best ways to find birds is just to watch for movement, and then focus on that movement to see what’s happening (it’s often a bird).

Birds are found in a lot of different habitats, and each species has different preferences, but as a general rule “edges” are the best places to see birds. Scan along the ground at the edge of a lawn or hedgerow or patch of weeds. Scan the shoreline of a pond or stream. Check the highest tips of trees and bushes, fence posts, or overhead wires. At first you’ll need to make a conscious effort to “keep an eye out” for birds, but you will quickly learn where and how to look, and noticing birds will become second nature.

Birds communicate by sound as well as by sight just like we do. They make a lot of noise and their songs and calls all mean something. On the most basic level sounds can help you find birds by revealing their presence and telling you what direction to look. You probably already know some bird sounds, like those of pigeons and chickens. As you gain more experience you’ll learn to recognize the raucous calls of jays, the husky “chirping” of house sparrows and many more. Just like seeing, it takes some focus and practice to hear birds, but once you start noticing these sounds you will hear them everywhere.

Bill, beak, whatever you call it, this is the best thing to focus on when you see an unfamiliar bird. The shape and size of the bill will give you some idea of what that bird eats, and what group it belongs to. And the feather markings around the bill and the eye are always some of the most distinctive on the bird. In most cases, if you can get a good look at the bill and the face it will be possible to identify the species.


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Here is a direct link to the complete article in The New York Times.

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