As a new resident to Texas by way of South Carolina, I’ve been enjoying the exposure to species of birds and other wildlife I wasn’t used to seeing back home. I’ll be walking down the street, and right there not 2 feet from the sidewalk is a yellow-crowned night heron fishing for a snack. Or I’ll be out riding my bike when I hear a squeaky laughing sound overhead, signifying the presence of black-bellied whistling ducks. Mississippi kites, too, have graced me with their presence with increasing regularity. Even an unassuming trip to Walmart has me entertained by the gregarious great-tailed grackles populating the trees in the parking lot.
While I’ve become somewhat desensitized to some of these encounters — when I first saw the black-bellied whistling-ducks atop the bird feeder outside my office window, I may have let out an excited squeal — I hope I never become so jaded that I don’t even notice.
I feel blessed that my eyes and ears pay attention to the natural celebration that is constantly around us. What a sad world it would be if Rachel Carson’s “silent spring” truly came to pass. My life is so much richer due to the birds I see and hear as I go about my daily activities.
I enjoy other animals, too, of course, but birds are something special. They’re essentially equal-opportunity animals, existing in practically every habitat and city or town, whether urban or rural. They’re something everyone can enjoy regardless of socioeconomic status or physical ability. You don’t need a pair of expensive binoculars and you don’t need to go on far-away trips to exotic locations. You don’t even need stellar vision — many excellent birders rely entirely on their ears. Some of my best birding experiences have come while driving down the road or sitting in my backyard. Some of them I didn’t even see the bird, but simply heard it. The call of an owl at night just has a way of reaching deep into your soul.
So ask yourself: Do you appreciate the abundance of life that surrounds you? Are you paying attention?
Challenge yourself to keep a list for a day or a week of the birds you see or hear. If you don’t know their names yet, that’s OK. You don’t have to know their names to enjoy and appreciate them. I’ve found it helps, but it’s not a requirement. Sometimes it’s fun not to know and take the identification on as a personal challenge. Field guides are of course a good starting point, but there are also many apps and websites freely available designed to help people with identification.
One of my favorites is the Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s “All about birds” website, but others prefer the simplicity and accessibility of Merlin, which was also designed by Cornell, and similar apps. You can even access field guides online. Audubon offers a free version covering 810 species.
My point in writing this, however, is not to convert you all into expert birders, but simply to encourage you to slow down every now and then as you’re speeding about your day, step outside and take a look around. Lift your head up as you’re walking into the store to complete your obligatory shopping trip. Listen for the birds. They’re singing.