Becoming a bird brain: A fun way to spend time while you stay at home
We’re all looking for ways to spend time and enjoy ourselves while staying at home during the Covid-19 pandemic. Becoming a “bird brain” is one way to do it – learning to spot, identify and appreciate birds.
Who can look? A bird brain – or birdwatcher – is just someone who enjoys looking at birds. You don’t have to take it too seriously. It can just be a fun, relaxing way to pass the time. You are never too old or too young. You can do it alone or with family or friends.
When to look. The early bird may get the worm, but you don’t have to be an early riser to watch birds. Early morning is a good time, but so is late afternoon-early evening. Anytime really. You just have to look and listen.
Where to look. We have many kinds of bird habitat nearby, forested neighborhoods and parks (after all Cleveland is the Forest City), rivers and streams and the lake shore. But a good place to start is right in your own backyard. And the sky above it.
How to look. There are as many ways to birdwatch as there are people. You can find a comfy seat by a window or sit out on your front porch or deck. But be careful. Too much noise or movement may scare the birds away. But if you keep still, they will likely come back. Or take a walk around your neighborhood or favorite park. Just keep a safe distance – from the birds and from each other.
If you have a bird feeder, that’s great. But don’t forget to look on the ground underneath it. Some birds prefer to eat seed that has fallen on the ground. And don’t forget to look in the trees and shrubs nearby. Birds will perch there and wait their turn at the feeder. If you run out of bird seed, try putting scraps of yarn, thread, twine, etc. in your feeder (or another container) for the birds to steal to “feather” their nests.
What to look for. We are all familiar with the red-breasted American robin, the shockingly-blue blue jay, brilliant red northern cardinal and noisy flocks of house sparrows. The big backyard bullies – crows, grackles and European starlings. And bald eagles. Did you know we have an active bald eagle nest in Avon Lake that you can watch on a live eagle cam at www.youtube.com/c/AvonLakeEagleCam. And don’t forget the turkey vultures – they are vultures, not buzzards – circling in the sky as they ride the thermals. And hawks showing a flash of red tail as they soar overhead.
But have you noticed the pesky little black-and-white chickadee, whose call sounds like chick-a-dee-dee-dee? Or red-breasted nuthatch that hangs upside down when it feeds? They’re there. And even the most familiar birds have nuances you may have overlooked. Have you noticed that robins have white rings around their eyes? Or the blue jay’s black necklace ? They are field marks – things to look for to help identify a bird – like its size, shape, color, behavior and habitat.
What to listen for. Listening to the birds can be a good way to de-stress. Just throw open the windows in your house or car and keep your ears open on your walk. Listening is also a good way to find birds to watch. The pesky little things may be hard to see once the trees leaf out. Fortunately birds sing more often in spring than any other season – its breeding time and they want to attract a mate. And there is the incessant chirping of hungry baby birds.
Some bird sounds you may hear in your backyard are the conk-la-ree trill of a red-winged blackbird, whistle-like call of a cardinal, scolding jeer of a blue jay or drumming of a woodpecker. Hear a cat? It might be the meow-like call of a catbird. By the lake? You might hear the squealing of gulls or honking of Canada geese overhead. Listening in the evening or late at night? You might hear the who-cooks-for-you of the barred owl or hoot-hoot of a great horned owl.
What do you need? You don’t really need anything to birdwatch, just your eyes and ears, your curiosity and maybe a sense of wonder. You can use binoculars and a field guide if you have them, but you don’t really need them. Need help? Just download the FREE Cornell Lab of Ornithology Merlin Bird ID app at merlin.allaboutbirds.org. And keep a notebook and pencil handy to jot down what you see, so you can brag about it later.
For more fun birdy things to do, go online to Audubon's Joy of Birds page at audubon.org/joy-of-birds.
What to do now? Become a bird brain and relax and enjoy the birds!
Retired physician (pathologist). Resident of Bay Village. Outdoor and wildlife enthusiast, bird watcher, antiquer.