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Why You Should Watch Birds

Posted by Matthew Rose on


When someone normally thinks of a bird-watcher, their imagination might take them to someone much older, dressed in all khaki, with a weird hat and binoculars; but don’t let your imagination end there. Birds are telling us a story, whether they are hunting, singing songs, or scavenging on carrion.  

About a year ago I was inspired by Theodore Roosevelt, who is in many respects, the father of modern day conservation to learn more about birds.  Roosevelt had an incredible fascination with birds his whole life, he spent much of his free time as a youth observing and documenting nature. And after reading a few of his books, I found myself inspired to pay more attention to the natural world around me. And through this newly adopted practice I learned that gaining a better understanding for birds, and their behavior, has the opportunity to give us a deeper knowledge and understanding of all environments we may find ourselves in.

Hunters and sportsman should especially learn to interpret behavior patterns of birds.  Predatory birds, such as falcons, have keen vision and are avid hunters, often times able to spot prey from unimaginable distances. Geese, ducks, finches and others, such as the dark-eyed junco, display great determination displayed over incredibly long migrations from breeding to winter grounds every year. Birds like the California Quail have a deep value of family in their ancestral covies, passed down throughout many years and generations. When studying these birds and their habits, we quickly begin to learn more about the world, through ecosystems, habitats and patterns, of not just birds but many more animals, plants and weather..  When one classification of animal contains everything from Golden Eagles to California Quail, the scope of skills and habits is quite broad. The more you watch and study the more you see and appreciate the birds that live in your ecosystem.

This has been an important skill, for any self-respecting sportsman, to know how to interpret what is going on around you in any situation, especially in the wild. Even to the extent Jim Corbett, famed hunter of man-eaters in India early in the 1900’s, would frequently write about his ability to interpret and understand the signs and signals of the jungle.  He would frequently trust his life, and the success of his hunt, to his ability to follow a tiger’s movements, based simply on the behavior of the birds. Similar to Jim Corbett,  when we learn to understand these observations they can keep us informed of our surroundings in effective ways.

Classification, or more formally known as taxonomy, is an important practice across all of biology, observing broad to narrow plant and animal types into specific identifications. Throughout history this practice of naming, studying, classifying plants and animals creates an important knowledge and skill in humans interaction with nature. Whether this is for safety, food, or protection, classification broad to narrow animal groups, noticing each animal's unique position, to an overall connection to others. This practice separates overall family’s of animals to unique species. As I began to learn about the classification of birds it quickly took over. Starting small with families of birds, land, water, migrating, predators, to more specific genus, or types of birds, falcons, finches,  herons, swallows, to specific species such as the sage grouse, pintail duck, osprey is a long but fun learning process. I have also learned that knowing their names, songs,  habits, environment and this knowledge quickly began to inspire even more subjects to learn. The world is ready to understand. The world has endless amounts of information to learn.It is ready to watch, ready to be heard. This knowledge begins to tell a story that teaches, inspires, impact the choices you make, whether that be fishing, hunting, family or even business practices.

Birds are a fantastic reminder that the natural world is alive and well even in our cities and neighborhoods.  Personally, I am challenging myself to learn the names of all the native birds within 100 miles of my home. While this is a substantial undertaking, I’ve been surprised at what I’ve learned in just a short time, simply by paying attention. When I pause to watch and listen, I am always surprised by the biodiversity that exists just in my backyard. Often I might  see a quail cross the road, or a hawk swooping on its prey, or a flock of duck

I want to challenge you to join me in my effort to observe and appreciate the native birds that we encounter during our everyday routines. Don’t be overwhelmed, but learn to watch, start small; start with the bird that is singing a song outside your window every morning. Use the internet or a book as a resource, and find the name of that bird. No need to know subspecies yet, but simply having your eyes watching the sky, you will be surprised at what you see.

Everyone should bird-watch. It may not change your life, but it will definitely help to make you more in-tune to what is going on around you; slowly becoming a master of your surroundings.