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For the Birds

A Classic Hobby Takes Flight This Spring

Bird enthusiasts are quick to point out the difference between “birdwatching” and “birding;” birdwatchers look at birds, while birders look for them. For beginners to seasoned ornithophiles, the popularity of this classic hobby is taking flight.

West Chester couple Barb and Dave Mackey enjoy vacationing and birding together with a small group of friends. Their interest was kindled by Helen Wright-North and Bill Littleford of Northern Kentucky. Their trips have taken them to see species of eagles, warblers, cranes, owls and more.

“Helen and Bill’s affection for birding has made it fun,” Barb says. “I think Helen gets more excited when we see a bird than when she sees a bird!”

Helen’s interest started 10 years ago when she hung a bird feeder in her backyard, a gift from a family member. She noticed a bird she’d never seen before and was hooked.

“A ‘spark bird’ is the bird that sparks your interest to watch birds,” Helen says. “The Northern Flicker was mine.”

Helen’s life list, a checklist of the different species a birder has seen over their lifetime, is now up to 302. 

One of the appeals of birding is its low-maintenance approach—it’s easy and inexpensive to begin, and you can do it from nearly anywhere. More than that, it’s a way to connect with nature and relax.

“Seeing how the birds and other parts of nature interact with each other is a wonderful thing to do during the pandemic,” Barb says.

“Birding is a way to give back to nature. Once you know what something is, you care more about how to keep it,” Bill shares.

Dave adds, “The health of our bird community throughout the country and the world are important indicators of our environmental health. That’s probably what hooks me in, a sort of a spiritual experience. You are intensely taking in the sounds and sights of nature. That puts you in a whole different place. It’s very soothing and relaxing.”

In a complicated world, birding has made a resurgence. Gear up and get out for the birds, even if it’s just a few steps into your own backyard.

“A lot of people travel the world to see birds, but you don’t have to go anywhere,” says Helen. “The most amazing thing about it is that there are amazing birds to see, right here in my neighborhood.”

Birding Basics

Get the Gear All you need for a successful birding adventure is a pair of decent binoculars and a field guide to keep track of your life list. A camera with a zoom lens is a bonus.

Look with Your Ears The best birding begins with your ears. Listen for bird songs and calls and follow the sounds to get a sighting. Dawn is a great time to hear a variety of chirps.

Start Local You can begin birding right in your own backyard. Put out a dish of water and a feeder or two to transform an outdoor space into a birding paradise. Local parks are teeming with birds, especially during the spring and fall migrations when many species are passing through. Search for local hot spots on eBird.org or smart phone apps.

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