To learn about nature, many people watch nature documentaries and TV series starring large charismatic animals, such as the lion, crocodile, or elephant. These impressive beasts entertain us with many qualities, from their massive size to a majestic demeanor. However, most Americans do not step foot out the door and expect a tiger to appear. Our local wildlife is rather conventional, and that often causes average people to forget that it is even there.
One way that Wild Heart Ecojourneys promotes developing a better understanding of nature is looking out at your backyard and watching the everyday dramas of local birds, turtles, snakes, and small mammals. Birdwatching is a terrific way to recreationally educate yourself through wildlife observation. Plus, it can be a lot of fun getting to know the backyard and neighborhood birds as individuals.
Here is how we recommend you become a better birder:
1. Practice your birdwatching naked…
By that we mean with the naked eye. Although tools such as binoculars make it easier to make out color patterns for identification, watching birds with the naked eye forces the observer to note behaviors to identify bird species from a distance.
2. Use your ears!
Many songbirds can be hard to spot, due to their size and quickness. Learning and listening for bird calls will help you better notice a bird’s presence as well as locate it for observation. It may help you find a bird that you haven’t seen before.
3. Carry a good ID book or have an app on your mobile device
Identification tools such as these often give good pointers on where to look to determine a bird species. What color is it? How does it fly? What does it look like in flight vs on a perch? Taking a picture is one of the best things to do. That way, you can better identify the bird even if it has taken off.
For the mobile app, we recommend Merlin Bird ID: http://merlin.allaboutbirds.org/
4. Understand behavior and migratory patterns!
Here in Southwest Florida, we have many seasonal migratory inhabitants. We also have a lot of migratory birds. It does a bird watcher no good to go looking for swallow-tailed kites in the fall and winter, when they are not around. Understanding the habitat and feeding habits of the bird you are looking for will also be greatly beneficial before you spend a day searching.
5. Lastly, it pays to practice.
Although it is not observing a cheetah chasing down a gazelle with a slow-motion camera, bird watching is a classic way to get outside and appreciate the natural world around you. Don’t expect to know every species and scientific name during the first session (If you do, more power to you). The more you get outside and look, the better at finding new birds you will be! Take a minute removed from your climate controlled car or home and feel the connection with the Earth that everyone needs!