The Addictive Nature of Birdwatching

I’m not a bird person. It’s not that I don’t like birds. It’s just that I’ve never been very interested in them, beyond pointing out hawks sitting on poles by the highway, or looking for owls in the trees by my old house, or being entranced as a massive flock of unspecified birds wheels left and right, up and down in perfect choreography (which is, if you’ve never seen it, amazingly cool to watch. You can actually hear the birds in the first few seconds of that video, and again around the 3:30 – 4 minute mark.).

Maybe it’s because I’m a cat person. After all, cats eat birds. Stalk them. Tear them to tiny, feathery bits. But they don’t watch them, unless it’s to then stalk, tear to tiny bits, and eat them. In fact, a few years ago I all but gave up red meat in favor of mostly chicken and turkey. Which are birds. So there could be something to that cat-person-not-bird-person thing.

Then again, I’d never intentionally hurt a bird, outside of buying, cooking, and eating it, of course. I’ve been known to stop the car for a bird in the road. Not just geese, which you sort of have to, but robins and sparrows, too. When a tiny bird started sleeping in the porch eave by our door last year, we tried to be very careful not to disturb him when we came in or out. And I’d never do anything as callous as knock a bird nest out of a tree unless I’d spent weeks verifying that no bird was using it or intended to.

But I’ve never wanted a bird as a pet, and for the life of me I’ve never understood birdwatching. At pet stores I always head straight to the kittens or puppies or guinea pigs or lizards and fish, but the birds? Just not my thing.

And then we bought a house. (Did I mention we bought a house? Because we did. In June. My sudden lack of blog posts, tweets, Facebook updates, email replies, or other online presence can be attributed 95% to that, and 5% to going to visit my in-laws in New York.)

The house we’d been renting was surrounded by trees on three sides. And when I say trees, I don’t mean one or two in the yard. I mean woods. Folks would cut down trees for firewood, and you couldn’t tell any difference. It was like living in a forest clearing, so our yard was continually swarmed by birds, squirrels, chipmunks, and even the occasional fox or groundhog. Even in winter. Which kept the cats enthralled for hours.

Our new house has three trees in the front yard, a thin line of trees in the back, and houses all around. The first month we were here, I don’t think I saw a single squirrel, and only a few birds.

An important fact of life with cats is that if you don’t supply them with entertainment, they’ll find a way to entertain themselves. Usually with something you would prefer they didn’t, like shoelaces or bonsai trees or rare first edition books you spent years looking for and lots of money buying.

Which is why Chad and I looked at each other not long after buying this house and said, “We’re gonna have to get some birdfeeders.”

So far we’ve put up four birdfeeders, and the cats love them. (The squirrels do, too, but more on that later.) They spend hours at the French doors that lead to our deck, fixated as birds swoop in, nibble at seeds, and flit away again.

Surprisingly, I find myself doing the same. When I head down in the morning to turn off the outside lights and grab a yogurt from the fridge, I can’t help stopping at those same French doors to stare at the feeders, both the ones on the deck and the one on the post further back in the yard, to see if any birds have shown up for breakfast. I’ll call for Chad to come look if an interesting new bird has shown up, or if one of our favorites is back. He does the same. I find myself sneaking a peek out the other windows around the house throughout the day, to see if I can spot any birds. A hummingbird buzzed the deck a few days ago before leaving in disappointment at only finding seeds; we immediately added “hummingbird feeder” to our shopping list. Chad even looked up a recipe for hummingbird nectar online, and we both agreed that we wouldn’t mind “cooking” for the little guys since he read that’s healthier than buying pre-made nectar.

I’m even thinking of planting honeysuckle along the back fence, because I think the hummingbirds would like it.

I’ve moved from identifying birds as “big”, “little”, “brown”, “red”, “yellow”, or “black” to identifying them as “cardinals”, “black-capped chickadees”, “house finches”, “grackles” (aka “Evil-Looking Black Birds”), and “goldfinches”.

I haven’t started pricing binoculars yet, and I don’t think you’ll ever see me in a pith helmet and khakis crouched for hours on end in hope of spotting some bird that only on occasion vacations in North Carolina. But I am thinking of expanding our bird-identification library beyond the one or two magazines that we picked up from our local garden store’s clearance section. And I did research cardinals as soon as I booted up my computer this morning to determine once and for all if some birds who have been frequent diners are cardinals or something else. (They are: a female and some fledglings. For the record, fledgling cardinals look like brown and red cardinals who’ve had a really, really bad day.)

So I suppose this means I’m a bird person after all.

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4 Responses to The Addictive Nature of Birdwatching

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  2. Leilani says:

    Andi – The birds you think look like cardinals but aren’t might be Cedar Waxwings (or maybe Bohemian Waxwings). I love those birds! Well, heck, I love most birds, but waxwings are special to me since they’re not very common in these here parts. Let me know if I’m right!

    • Andi NewtonAndi Newton says:

      Hey, Leilani! I was hoping you’d pop in with some bird info. :)

      I did a web search on the two waxwings you mentioned. They’re lovely, but not what we’re seeing here. The one I’m thinking is a female cardinal likes just like a cardinal except it’s brown with light red wings and tail. The ones I’m thinking are fledglings are mostly bright red except for rough-looking patches of brown all over. If you scroll through the pics on the Cornell site (the cardinal link above), pic #8 is what we’re seeing. And they actually have a lot more red on them now than they did when they first showed up.

      A new bird showed up today. Sort of small to medium size, light brown, long tapered body, and a long, delicate, curved neck. Very pretty. If it comes back, I’ll have to take some pics to post here so you can let me know what it is!

  3. Leilani says:

    Andi – The bird with the curved beak might be a brown creeper. Is it really hard to see when it’s on a tree?