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Birding is Easy

2008-05-17-082853Some people say birding is hard. But seriously … what could be easier? You just go outside, and pay attention.

Once out in the temperate, sweet, springtime woods, a stunning little black and orange bird hops along the branch of an ash tree that’s just beginning to put out its leaves for the year. Even if you have never in your life picked up any kind of a bird guide, you could very likely find this little gem in a few minutes of poking about semi-randomly … and boom: you be birding.

And really … you don’t even have to go outside. You can sit by the kitchen window watching the back yard. My mother-in-law has a field guide and binoculars that are always on the kitchen table. She cannot pass the windows that looks out at the feeders in her backyard without glancing to see what’s there. She’s identified about 40 species so far. Is she a birder? Absolutely!

A non-birding friend sent me this description of a bird she saw: “new bird in my yard that i’ve never seen before…shaped like a sparrow, black head, grey back, greyish-white breast, tail is very striking in flight..black inverted V with bright white on the sides”. 

That’s a great description of a junco. She may not realize it, but she’s taken the first baby-step down the rabbit hole.

Most birds, after a fairly brief familiarization with any field guide, can be pretty quickly assigned to order or family. If it looks like a duck, it probably is. Pay attention to the locals you see all the time — like cardinals, chickadees, a wren species, crows, House Sparrow, etc. — and you easily begin to fill the bucket of birds you know. When something different pops up, you’ll automatically compare it to what you know … and now you’re really birding.

Some things don’t come so easy … and that’s okay. I know some very experienced birders who simply “don’t do gulls.” Gulls are messy. Coming across a big flock of gulls can be like walking through an art museum, taking in Andrew Wyeth and Grant Wood, then turning a corner and finding yourself in a gallery full of Jackson Pollock. It’s a bit to digest. And it’s a vortex that can be avoided (or jumped into with both feet!)

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Birding is pleasant. A spring walk in the woods, a summer hike in the mountains, or a winter vacation to the beach, all come with different birds. Everywhere you go, there are birds. I have been birding while sitting in an airplane waiting in the taxi line to take off. Or on the train going to work. Walking across the mall parking lot with a cart of groceries.

“Birding is something we do for enjoyment. So, if you enjoy it, you’re a good birder. If you enjoy it a lot, you’re a great birder.”
– – Kenn Kaufman

You can go birding alone, and get lost in the multitude, and solitude. You can go with your other half, and have some of the most fun possible while fully clothed. Or, you can bird naked. You can go birding with a group of friends–or go on an organized field trip, and meet new friends. You can go birding with us.

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And as you meet new birding buddies, you’ll meet some who have been at it longer than you. And when you’re walking in the woods, your better birding buddy may point out a female Blackburnian Warbler. You realize that were you by yourself, you’d never have been able to identify it. But having a friend help you made you instantly a better birder. And you’re having fun. With a friend.

See? Easy. Get out and bird.

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Photo by George Armistead

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Greg Neise

Greg Neise

Web Development at American Birding Association
Greg Neise developed his interests in birds, photography and conservation as a youngster growing up in Chicago, across the street from Lincoln Park Zoo. At the age of 13, he worked alongside Dr. William S. Beecher, then Director of the Chicago Academy of Sciences and a pioneering ornithologist, and learned to photograph wildlife, an interest that developed into a career supplying images for magazines, newspapers, institutions and books, including National Geographic (print, web and television), Chicago Tribune, Chicago Sun-Times, Boston Globe, Nature, Lincoln Park Zoo, Miami Zoo, Jacksonville Zoo, The Field Museum and a host of others. He has served as President of the Rainforest Conservation Fund, a volunteer organization dedicated to preserving the world's tropical rainforests. Greg is a web developer for the ABA, and of course, a fanatical birder.
Greg Neise

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  • Ralph Browning

    Birding IS easy in many ways, some of which are not discussed. Some are likewise humorous and are in a series of essays “Easy Birding and how not to get arrested” on my website birdingalways.com
    Ralph Browning

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