A Reason to Bird
by Katie Finch
At Audubon Nature Center, people think we are all about birds. It is understandable. It was the outrage over the killing of millions of birds to decorate ladies’ hats that led to the foundation of the Massachusetts Audubon Society in 1896. Today, National Audubon Society does research, sets policy, and conserves habitat for birds and other wildlife.
A Song Sparrow gets banded by ornithologists as onlookers watch.
If you have been to a program or just look at the other programs we offer, that myth is quickly dispelled. The Nature Center works to connect people to all of nature- mammals, insects, plants, the fascinating-yet-complicated systems to which they belong, and also birds.
However, it is difficult not to talk about birds this time of year. Familiar species are coming back after having been thousands of miles south this winter. Their songs accompany our waking and walking. And they are putting on the most beautiful displays of plumage in the hopes of attracting a mate.
I admit, at the start of a career in outdoor education looking for something small, moving, and most likely brown and far away with people who knew more than me was not on my list of exciting outdoor adventures. However, with more knowledge, maturity, and generous help from birders I’ve met here, I’ve grown to appreciate and want to know our feathered friends.
Spotting something at Birdathon
Partly as an explanation for those unconverted friends and family members who observe my growing obsession I’ve starting to think about why people bird.
Birding is a very accessible recreational activity. According to the U.S. Census, 52 million people feed and observe birds. And there are multiple levels in which to participate. You can watch birds in the comfort of your house, appreciating their colors and their antics at the feeder. Or you can learn to identify them, large, distinct ones first, small, nondescript later. You can make a list, count them, learn their songs, understand behavior, look for nests . . .
Watching birds is another way to mark the changes of the seasons. The “conk-a-ree” of the Red-Winged Blackbird is a welcome sign of spring. “I saw my first bluebird” is the equivalent of saying “Spring is really here.”
Birds are everywhere. There are 914 species of birds in North America. They can be seen in all habitats- swamps, deserts, forests, backyards, and city streets. Walk through many urban areas (including Jamestown and Warren) and listen for the nasal “peent” of Common Nighthawks, which nest on top of city buildings and fly overhead at night hunting insects.
A Yellow Warbler singing. Photo by Dave Cooney
And birds are just beautiful. Think of the bright red of the cardinal or the shining feathers of a hummingbird. Even the invasive European Starling is to be admired in its breeding plumage when caught in the sunlight.
Their stories are also amazing. How many of you have longed to fly like bird? Their endurance of the winter cold and ability to travel thousands of miles is sometimes beyond our ability and understanding. The Arctic Tern travels 25,000 miles from its Arctic breeding grounds to winter off Antarctica.
If you’d like to know more about birds, whether you are a beginner or an expert, the Nature Center has some opportunities coming up this spring.
Join ornithologists on Saturday mornings, weather permitting, beginning at the end of April. Watch how they capture migrating and resident birds, fit them with identification bands, measure and weigh them, then release them.
Bird banding is an age-old technique used to discover details about the lives of birds. You can drop in any time between 7:00am and 11:00am on four Saturdays from April 25 through May 16 to learn from the ornithologists exactly how it is done and why.
If you are a Boy Scout (or not!) working on a Bird Study badge, the Nature Center is the place for you on Saturday, April 25. Scouts who are just beginning their Bird Study Merit Badge can get a good start and those who have already begun can be tested. The morning includes walks with birding experts, stations to learn about or review bird anatomy and songs, field guides, and binoculars and a bird feeder building station. Scouts will also have the opportunity to visit a bird banding research demonstration. The general public is also welcome to register for the program. Through funding from the Rollin A. & Annie P. Fancher Fund administered by Chautauqua Region Community Foundation we are able to offer this half day event for a moderate fee.
Another option is to join or support birders on Saturday, May 2. This is an (almost) all-day event in which we try to find as many species of birds as possible. Join the Education staff and friends to see as many birds as we can on this one-day only Birdathon.
Or make a pledge to support the team. The Fledgling team raises money for the Ryan Exline Memorial Scholarship for a college student heading off to college with an interest in pursuing the natural sciences. Generous supporters pledge an amount – either per species or in total – and the end result is the $500 scholarship. This year’s recipient is Brandon Allen who is a senior at Southwestern High School and plans to attend Finger Lakes Community College in the fall.
This scholarship is named in memory of one of the very first recipients of the scholarship. Ryan Exline was a volunteer, intern, nature-lover, and was attending graduate school at Duke University. His love of nature and of nurturing future generations of “nature nerds” lives on in this scholarship.
So as we continue to teach- and learn- about birds and the rest of the amazing outside world, maybe we’ll see you out there.
Audubon Nature Center is located at 1600 Riverside Road in the town of Kiantone, one-quarter mile east of Route 62 between Jamestown, New York and Warren, Pennsylvania. Learn more about the Nature Center and the many programs and events by visiting http://jamestownaudubon.org.
Katie Finch is a naturalist at Jamestown Audubon.