It was maybe a month ago. Garry and I were watching Colbert and his guest was a big star — whose name I’ve forgotten. I’m not good at remembering names so that’s not unusual, but I remember the conversation.
“What,” asked Mr. Colbert, “Did you do during lockdown? Were you with others or alone?”
“I was alone,” he replied. “I was in my house and it has a big yard and one really huge tree in the middle. I was lying in my lawn chair and sort of watching the tree when I realized there was a lot of life in that tree. By the time they began to lift lockdown, I loved with my big tree and all those beautiful birds.”
He wasn’t alone. A lot of people, locked away from normal interaction with other humans, discovered nature. Because birds are ubiquitous. You can see them everywhere, in the country or a city.
You wouldn’t be alone. More people did year’s bird counts — nearly twice as many — as had counted in previous years.
I started watching birds because my first husband (the one who passed) had a sister who was and is a serious bird watcher. She dragged me along on several viewings. I didn’t see a lot, but eventually I got a set of binoculars and a book and I started watching.
In Israel, I watched the raptors. Many raptors — hawks, eagles, vultures, falcons, kites, and more — fly up from wintering in Africa to Europe and Asia where they breed and live until they migrate back. Since they can’t fly at night across open water, they stop in Israel for about a week to rest up for the remainder of their journey. They arrive — about 2 million of them — during the first or second week in April. For the week to ten days they are there, they are everywhere you look. Then, as if someone rang a bell, they shake their feathers and take to the air. A few days later, all but those who normally live in the area have gone.
When we moved here, I was really touched by how hard the birds had to struggle to survive in the bitter cold and snow — and I started feeding them. In theory, they are best left to fend for themselves. But that implies that they have the means to do so. That we haven’t cut down all the woods where they lived or turned their breeding grounds into a mall or rows of condos.
New England is still more tree than asphalt, but most of the country is more asphalt and cement than anything natural. We’ve lost more than a billion birds in the past 50 years and we are still losing them at a prodigious rate. Mostly, it’s cutting down the woods, but it’s also climate change and the changes to the kinds of plants that used to grow there.
Birding is the world’s best, easiest — and least expensive — hobby. Other than a pair of binoculars and a good paperback birding book, all you need is to be somewhere and look for birds. You can get involved in photographing them or just enjoy watching them. You can feed them if you like. They always like being fed. And, just a warning, old bread is NOT food. It just bloats them up without giving them any nutrition. So if you’re inclined to feed them, you can find bird feed at almost any grocery store worldwide.
When you feed them, they tell their friends who tell more friends and soon, you’ll be surrounded by birds of many feathers.
Many people ask me if the birds are really watching me because it looks that way in the photographs. The answer is yes, they are. Birds have incredibly good vision in full color. They may even see colors we don’t see. So if I’m standing at the window looking at them, they are looking in — at me. This is why when you start feeding birds it takes a while before they get used to seeing you and stop flying away every time you show up. Eventually, birds that are friendly — Chickadees, Sparrow, some of the wrens, and Goldfinches, for example — begin to hang around even when you are actually outside.
Some get spooked by the big camera, but are less nervous when they are eating. Doves are usually worried because they are prey for hawks, cats, and pretty much anything with a hankering for squab.
Now that you know the birds are also people watchers, what do you think they think we are doing?