Young and coffee in varying degrees, Kat also says stuff @ThoroughlyMode
Published November 26th 2010
When I was a little kid I wanted to be a bird. Not in the same way that other kids wanted to be Superman or Spiderman, but in the same way as you might want to be a Doctor or a Fireman, because birds are real, silly. And they had the audacity to fly around my garden making me sick with jealousy. Once I'd resolved myself to the fact that I wasn't going to be a bird, I took to watching them. With a patience that would have made my Mum check my pulse. I watched them build nests and talk to each other, and do little dances and protect their eggs and all sorts of other birdy behaviours. I didn't know it at the time, because I was a four year old of average intelligence, but I'd become a birder.
There are two main things about birdwatching that might put you off: 1. It sounds like a hobby the domain of the kagool-wearing-classes, and 2. A lot of people think it basically involves spending your weekends sitting still and quiet in a bush. What you should know is that neither a kagool nor sitting still for hours are essential parts of the birdwatching experience. All you might need to get you started is a gentle reminder of how cool birds are and how interesting it is to watch them get up to their social antics.
It's super easy to get going and bird watch casually. There will be birds in your garden and round your local area, so do some research and find out what kinds they are and what sorts of things they get up to: what the noises they make mean, where and when they might build their nests and whether they stay in the same place all year or winter in warmer climes. In the UK the best place to start your research is on the RSPB (Royal Society for Protection of Birds) Website, in Australia visit Birds Australia, in the US try the American Birding Association, the National Audubon Society or the American Bird Conservancy. If you're not sure who to contact locally get in touch with Birdlife International who'll be sure to know. These are excellent places to meet with other like minded feathery fans as well if you're interested in the social aspect of birdwatching.
Once you've cased your local birds it's time to spread your wings and travel further afield: parks, forests or National Parks are birdy restaurants and drop in centres, rivers are good places to live and do some fishing, as are steep, seaside cliffs, but wetlands offer a wealth of bird life that's hard to beat as far as variety goes. Your local birding website will be able to give you some specific suggestions. Bring your binoculars, camera and a tripod if you have one, to ensure you get the closest view of the birds you're watching. You should also bring a notebook to record the vital statistics of any birds you've not seen before, and print out pictures and descriptions of any birds you're hoping to run into so you can recognise them easily.
The very best places to bird watch are on migration routes where you can see hundreds, or even thousands of birds flying off somewhere nicer for the winter. In autumn and spring, when most birds travel they're also at their most vocal – chatting to each other about when they're planning to leave. In spring when they come back they're often in the mood for love, so this is when you'll see mating dances and elaborate nest building competitions. It's not just migrating birds who become amorous and chatty with the warmth, even if your local garden birds (who you might have unconsciously given names by this time) stay home for the winter they'll be getting more active with the thaw. If your local birds do stay at home it might be a nice idea to make them a bird feeder and give them a little help getting though the winter. Unscientific, yes, but a good way to ensure you see them regularly.
One of the nicest things about birdwatching is that you may find that you're starting to do it all the time – glancing around on your walk to work to find out if that was a red breast you spotted on what you thought first was a city sparrow. And your friends are more likely to be impressed than disgusted by your new won ability to tell them which bird that was singing them that sweet little toowit toowoo – or else keeping them up all night with its incessant chirping.
The extreme end of the birding scale involves twitching, which means travelling to birdwatch. This sounds pretty geeky, but as you can quickly see, some of the best places to see rare birds are also some of the world's most exciting, untouched environments – see arrogant Scarlet Macaws in the South American tropics, see polite Puffins on the coasts of the UK and Newfoundland or Bald Eagles, the great hunters, in Alaska.
Despite all the feathery action, for some people there's something very Zen about birdwatching: it's a chance to get out into the countryside and watch and listen without having to rush around. Best done in friendly company so that you can share eyes and the childish enjoyment of appreciating how cool it is that birds can fly (again.).