Better Days, Birdwatching

It’s fitting that the sounds of a robin, a migratory songbird, were reminding me that spring is here and nature is awakening from a long, winter slumber.
American Robin
American Robin. Photo by © Wayne D. Lewis

I can’t remember any other time in my life when I struggled to keep track of what day it is, but that is one of the challenges I’ve experienced during this Stay-at-Home Order. Daily routines have changed and while we all try to stay productive, many of us have a lot more downtime. Endless rounds of board games, books, magazines, movies, tv shows, news… all things that weeks ago, I couldn’t find time for. Now, these activities are quickly growing stale during this prolonged confinement. And after a day of cloudy skies and the threat of rain, I went to bed feeling like our small existence was getting smaller. 

Waking up this morning, however, things felt different. The room was full of sunlight, but there was something else. Not feeling particularly motivated to jump out of bed, I relaxed a moment and just listened. Through the silence came a sharp, but comforting sound. Just outside of the window was the bright and hopeful song of a robin. A familiar sound for me, but one that is easily drowned out by all of the sounds – TV, radio, Zoom meetings…noise that has been filling my days. 

It’s fitting that the sounds of a robin, a migratory songbird, were reminding me that spring is here and nature is awakening from a long, winter slumber. And as I scanned the area trying to find the location of the expressive bird, I noticed several other signs of spring. Aspen tree buds had formed and were already relaxing their tight grip and unfurling leaves. Around the yard, tulips and daffodils had pushed through the soil, some already successfully forming flowers. The grass was greening. Spring has soldiered on, just like it does every year. The only difference was that I had become absorbed in the experience of living a new normal in a world embroiled in a pandemic.

Taking inspiration from the robin’s song, I decided birdwatching could be a great break from the monotony of the news cycle, help lower anxiety and be a new activity to share with the family.

Birdwatching Basics

Audubon App

With a Stay-at-Home order in place, this is a great opportunity to keep your birding local and learn more about what’s flying around your home. Fortunately for Coloradans, spring is a prime time to witness a wide variety of songbirds making their seasonal migration. One of the biggest challenges is remaining still long enough to collect some basic information needed to identify the more than 400 species of native and migratory birds that can be found in Colorado. Identifying color, size, beak shape, tail shape, and other important clues will help you distinguish between the wide variety of birds that you are likely to encounter. Start by looking out of your window, watching for movement in the trees, training your eyes to recognize bird shapes and listening. And while a pair of binoculars may make birdwatching more exciting, they are not necessary to get started. Sounds are often the first thing that you will notice when birdwatching. And with practice, this can be all you need to make a positive identification.

To put a more palatable spin on one of my older hobbies, I decided to look for some tech that may make things more engaging for my thirteen-year-old son. And while phone apps may not be essential birding gear, they can provide some of the instant gratification that Gen Z thrives on, while also providing a global resource that scientists are starting to rely on. There are several phone apps that make identifying birds fun and easy. And best of all, many of the apps are free. The Audubon Bird Guide App and Cornell University’s Merlin Bird ID app are two great options that can help you identify birds by location, time of year, color, size and much more. The apps make it easy to go from spotting to identifying in just a couple of clicks.

Citizen Science – Join eBird

Visit the eBird website.
eBird app

Join hundreds of thousands of people around the world that are using eBird to report bird observations to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. Citizen scientists, like you and me, are helping to gather data on a scale that was once unimaginable. This important information is helping scientists better understand how birds are affected by habitat loss, pollution, disease, climate, and other environmental changes. Your participation helps trace bird migration, nesting success, and changes in bird numbers through time. Insights will inform conservation plans and help to protect birds and habitats. Visit the eBird website to learn more about eBird, download the app and find a project that’s right for you.

Planting can be for the Birds

Photo by © Vic Schendel/CPW.

For many birds, spring is a time to take advantage of burgeoning insect populations, budding plants and an abundance of nesting locations. With some extra time on our hands, our family has taken advantage of the Audubon Native Plant Database to identify native flowers that we can plant in an effort to attract more birds to our house. The database is easy to use: You simply enter your zip code and you’ll be presented with a list of plants and the birds they will attract. So, whether you have acres of land, a nice-sized garden, or a planter box on your balcony, you can make a better world for birds by planting native plants. The key to getting started is picking the right plants for your area.

Visit Your Local Parks

Great Blue Heron
In search of food, a great blue heron wades slowly through the shallow water of St. Vrain State Park’s Coot pond. Photo by © Theo Skinner.

Spread across the state and home to diverse habitats, Colorado State Parks are an ideal place to build your birdwatching list. On a recent trip to St. Vrain State Park, we were able to combine several hours of fishing with some time birdwatching. We recorded a wide variety of sightings, including ospreys, red-winged blackbirds, great blue herons, and bald eagles. We filled the moments in between catching fish with conversations about bird habitats, feeding behaviors, and how you could start to identify birds just by their songs. For now, we’re visiting the parks that are close to home, but we’re looking forward to exploring new parks and identifying new birds as the situation improves. Use the CPW’s Park Finder to learn more about the parks near you. 

As much as some things change, many things remain the same!

It appears that we are just a few days away from the end of the Stay-at-Home order and things will slowly move toward a new normal. And while this has been a challenging time, we’ve added some changes to our daily routine that have been positive that we’ll be keeping in our routine. We will continue to find time to play board games, watch movies together, and get outside to go birdwatching. There is no question that we must all pay attention to the ever-changing COVID-19 situation, but we also can find hope in the fact that spring has returned and the birds are still singing.

More Birdwatching Resources

Written by Doug Skinner. Doug is an editor for Colorado Outdoors Online and is a media specialist for Colorado Parks and Wildlife. 

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