Birding: Soar to new heights

What is it about birds that fascinates us all? Is it their graceful, effortless flight, weaving and waving, zigging and zagging, narrowly missing buildings or trees as they whizz by? Is it their vibrant color, with countless shades and designs covering their bodies from webbed foot to pointy beak? Is it their cheerful melody and perfect harmony? Or is it their aura of total belonging to the environment? Maybe it’s because we’re envious of their relaxed and carefree nature and their ability to soar from place to place that captivates me. Whatever the reason, one thing is certain — watching birds go about their daily routine is certainly a pleasure.

Is there a birder inside you?

Do you find yourself noticing birds around you? Do you stop to watch as a robin searches out a worm for breakfast? Do you listen to a common sparrow chirp its morning tune? Watch out — you might be a birder at heart.

Most people are somewhat interested in birds, but, as with so many other things, we don’t make the time to do anything about it. As we get older, our schedules may quiet down enough to explore unfulfilled interests such as birding.

Getting stted is not a complicated process. It can be as simple as setting up a backyard feeder similar to mine and identifying a few birds here and there, in different seasons, and you’ll probably want to learn more. Before you know it, you’re hooked.

Where to start

The first step, as above, is to get a feeder (if you don’t already have one) and start watching. Just remember, though, that once you set one up, you’ve made a commitment. After you’ve established your home station, you can then venture off and observe nature beyond your backyard. Call one of the many tour operators across the country or contact Bird Studies Canada at the Ontario-based Long Point Observatory (519-586-3531) for information tours in your area.

Getting Equipped

Another positive of birding is that you don’t need hundreds of dollars to get started. You can get good binoculars (at least 7 by 35 power) for under $75 at any camera shop or store that deals exclusively with optical products. Make sure you try different pairs, noting how each feels and performs before making a purchase. A tip: Pawnshops have tremendous bargains.

Binoculars are really the only essential for birdwatching. However, if you want to know what you’re looking for (and you should), try to get a good bird guide as well. Roger Tory Peterson’s Field Guide to Eastern Birds is fine for beginners and the National Geographic Bird Guide is excellent if you’re a little more advanced. Bird guides are available at most bookstores, nature shops and libraries.

Food for thought

Feeding birds has always been a popular activity. It’s a warm, comforting feeling to feed living things, an emotion that intensifies with age. Many of us have had indoor pets our whole lives but can find it too taxing in our later years. We miss the company and loyalty of a pet and assuming responsibility for wild animals can fill the void — birds are the perfect source. They’re tiny, harmless, and attractive, and many species are accustomed to close contact with humans. They seem to appreciate being fed and are always willing to come back for seconds.

In addition to food, however, birds need water and shelter. If you want to set up a first-rate feeding station, you must cater to all three of these needs. You can buy feeders at most pet shops or at specialized birding shops. Visit your local library for information on how to construct your own feeder. Next step?

What to put in it. Not just any seed will do. Black-oil sunflower seeds are your best bet — most species like them and they’re not as messy as others. Never put out bread for birds. This attracts pigeons, gulls, squirrels, rats, mice, dogs, cats, and raccoons, aggressive and unwelcome visitors which scare off the birds you want to visit.

Commitment is very important — once you start feeding, you must continue to do so regularly, especially during the cold months. Often birds become dependent on you as a food source. You should also consistently clean your feeder with a mild bleach solution, and don’t forget to rake up old seeds. This will keep your feeder sanitary.

Feeding birds is a fun and rewarding experience. If you enjoy the feeding immensely, join Project Feedwatch at the Long Point Bird Observatory. This program enables you to help biologists establish migratory and breeding trends.