How Watching Birds Can Help the Earth and You

Once upon a time, everyone knew the names of the local birds. Then as humans migrated from rural areas to cities, that knowledge was lost in time. Now for most in modernized countries, nature is foreign territory. The birds are nameless, with the exceptions of crows, robins, sparrows, and a few others.

I was in that camp until my second year of college when I took Glenn Moffat’s “Natural History of California.” At the beginning of the birding unit, the binoculars in hand, our class headed up to the rolling green hills behind Foothill College for our first field trip. I was astonished that those little brown birds I had seen all my life now through binoculars were so distinctive in color, patterns (and song). By the time we spotted a lazuli bunting, shimmering iridescent blue in the sun, I was hooked. All those gulls on the coast- there were four kinds! Then there were a myriad sandpiper and duck species I had never noticed before. A new world was open to me.

For the last 40 years, I have been an observer of birds.Whenever I am out, I am always on the lookout for them and tune into their calls. They tell me things. When certain songbirds don’t return, I know that somewhere in the world they have been affected by habitat destruction or agri-chemicals. Our swallows did not return when the neighbor filled improved their driveway- no more mud for their nests. The quail disappeared when the farmer behind my property stripped all the brambles away. I miss them

I don’t keep a life list, but I do notate birds of interest in the back of my bird book in the index and date the sightings. I keep feeders up including one for the hummingbirds. There has been so much I have learned observing birds at the feeders and believe me, watching hummingbirds is more entertaining than YouTube. I used to be concerned about filling their feeder high enough so their beaks could reach until I noticed they can extent their thread-like tongues about 3 inches.

In the spring and fall, I am on the lookout for interesting migrants that stop at my feeders on their way to Mexico and South America. Imagine tiny warblers flying thousands of miles! I am happy to help them out.

Here are some reasons you should start birding (if you haven’t already)…

  1. You will establish a relationship with nature that will lead to knowledge of habitat and conservation issues.
  2. It will get you and your family outside- especially valuable in this time of Covid 19.
  3. It’s an economical pastime. All you need is a bird book and a decent pair of binoculars. Later you might want to invest a seed feeder and a hummingbird feeder.
  4. You can connect with a new community of friends, online or on physically distanced outings.
  5. You will become a better observer of the natural world, gazing up and listening instead of looking at your smartphone.
  6. Most of all, you will realize that the world belongs to other beings besides humans. They deserve our protection.  

For more information, contact your local Audubon Society. The website Bird Watching Daily has great information for birders of all levels.

Here is a video that has helpful tips for beginning birders.

Happy birding!

This post also is appearing on my other blog, By Alanna Pass .


  1. Thank you for the links in this wonderful post, Alanna. I have been writing about birds a lot lately – and even trying to draw and paint them (not too good at that!). I have a slightly wooded area outside my ‘writing window’ and I have noticed so many birds this summer – cardinals, blue jays, goldfinches, sparrows, mallards, and at least three kinds of woodpeckers. I don’t know if I am just noticing them more because I am sheltering in, or if the birds are happy to not have to share their habitat with us as much. I have also seen a resurgence of bats (yeah, they eat the mosquitoes!), fireflies, chipmunks, and we even have a resident bunny this year. I am so blessed to live in a place that promotes “a relationship with nature”.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I happily admit to being an unabashed birder. For me, it’s part of the legacy of my mother teaching me how to read nature. This plant, that tree, this hillock, that small furry creature – giving a name to something recognizes its sovereignty and place in the world. I love knowing that cooing outside is one of a pair of resident doves. When the red-wing blackbirds descend on the feeder, I know they flew over from the wetland area a block away. I love knowing the mousy brown bird on my dog walk is a song sparrow and I listen for it on that path every time. These small simple acts strengthen my emotional connection to and respect for where I live and connect me to my sense of wonder and curiosity, parts of me that I cherish as much as when my mother crouched beside me and pointed these things out. What a gift!

    Liked by 1 person

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