What’s with the birds?

I realize a lot of people wonder about bird watchers and what exactly they are up to. How can it be that interesting to catch a glimpse of an avian creature? So here are some things to consider.

Where’s Waldo has been in print for over thirty years delighting fans all over the world in finding the little man in red and white stripes. Birdwatching beats Waldo any day. First off, it can be done outside anytime, any season without any printed materials. And there are a lot more variations to look for than stripes of two colors.

Walking about in nature is pleasant in and of itself, but add to that the possibility of coming upon a devoted couple of Hooded Mergansers can make any day special. The elaborate head plumage on the drake is bright white even from across the pond. While the hen can barely be distinguished from her surroundings. Sometimes you only get a quick glance before a bird takes flight, so stand-out features are a definite plus.

Hunting is part of the fun. But the distinguishing is the real skill. You might only get a few seconds, half a minute to make some critical observations before the subject at hand flutters off to a higher limb or across the tall prairie grass. In that precious time your eyes need to take in the size, plumage markings, beak thickness and any other mannerisms that may help you with identification.

With experience, an observer can collect an impression and plop it between a range of sizes, colors and markings, then scroll the memory banks for the best possibility of what it it that flies ahead. But that’s where it gets tricky. Once out of view, the memory becomes foggy. Was it a gross beak? Was the cap black and a black bar across the wings? You learn to look for defining features.

Before you know it, your trained eye see the Flicker on the hallowed tree by the driveway, and the Orioles making their way up for the summer months, and the Crested King Fishers down by the water. Life is richer, more varied and better understood.

Now if I could only spot those darn owls.

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