By Amy Flinn
Every now and again I am lucky enough to observe a rare bird (or at least an “exciting” one). Sometimes I might even get a photo. How does this happen? Well, first you need to recognize the common birds, and remember – a “rare” bird is often a bird in the wrong place at the wrong time. So start – get outside and pay attention. Make birding a habit. Do you walk your dog? Walk the dog in a local park. Do you drive to work or appointments? Route your drive through a park or wild area. Do you have a yard? Provide food and water for the birds there.
Once you start “hanging out” with the birds the common ones will become easy for you to identify. You may be surprised at how many you already know – Northern Cardinal, Blue Jay, Northern Mockingbird, Flamingo, Penguin, – just kidding. Trust me – you DO KNOW many birds and will begin to add others fairly quickly. Before long you will know when you see a bird you do not recognize. (I take photos because I have trouble with binoculars. It limits what I see and identify, but works for me and I can look them up later).
Try reporting a short birding trip on eBird*.
It is a great tool for getting to know which birds are common in your area at different times and which might be rare, as you will have lists to refer to. And try out the alert function that will let you know the day after a rare bird is sighted in your target area.
Three years ago I started receiving “alerts” from eBird when a rare bird was sighted in Williamson County or Bell County. With those alerts, I started to map out birding “hot spots” and learning the names of local birders (who are almost always a generous group of people willing to share their expertise with you). Now I regularly monitor a hot spot five minutes from my house. Both photos illustrating this article were taken at that location.
Below is MY list (in no particular order) of the things that have made birding easier and more
enjoyable for me. It has helped me learn and celebrate the “common” birds and recognize when a “rare” one comes along. It is not an exhaustive list – just what I have tried with some success. Don’t give up.
- Use online databases and resources – eBird*, iNaturalist,** All About Birds***
- Join your local Audubon**** and take the field trips.
- Develop a network of birding friends
- Use the “Birds of Texas” group on Facebook
- Keep your eyes and ears open
- Use a good pair of binoculars and/or camera and/or recording app
- Get some training (Did you know there is a sparrow class?)
- Go on a Christmas Bird Count***** with an experienced birder. Better yet, go on a couple of them.
- Research birding opportunities when you travel.
- Hang out in a bird blind (it’s even better if you go with an expert)
- Feed the birds in your yard
- Invest in a good bird book****** (check them out from the library first and see which one makes sense to you).
- eBird.org **
- iNaturalist.org ***
- All About Birds.org ****
- Williamon audubon.org,
- Christmas Bird Count – https:// www.audubon.org/conservation/join- christmas-bird-count******
- Everyone has a favorite. I use Peterson’s and Sibley’s.
Top Threats to Birds
Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Nov. 2019
- If you were alive in 1970, 29% of breeding birds in the U.S. and Canada have disappeared within your lifetime.
- These data signal an urgent need to repair the very fabric of our ecosystems – and bring birds back.
- Habitat loss and degradation are the biggest reasons for the rapid and staggering loss of birds across the continent.
- What are other leading causes of bird deaths because of humans? Every year, more than 2.6 billion birds are estimated to be killed by cats, and up to 1 billion birds are killed by window strikes in the U.S. and Canada alone.
- Collisions with vehicles and structures such as power lines and communications towers are additionally estimated to kill more than 300 million.