I never had much interest in birds until I dragged a log and propped it up in front of the kitchen window. Fish are my thing. I once got into a…it wasn’t really an argument, more a heated discussion, with a coworker who thought fish were stupid because they tangle themselves in monofilament. I asked her to explain the function of a mist net. Every year, untold thousands of birds crash into stationary radio towers. They attack windows. Let’s not give them too much credit.
All this is immaterial. I had an old hackberry log and I propped it up outside the kitchen window and tossed some birdseed on it. Juncos and purple finches were the bravest, the first to show up, reminders of my grandparents. Goldfinches. Cardinals.
Occasionally a gluttonous starling would drop in- gluttonous not just because they’re invasive but because they actually use their beak to scrape and shovel food down their throat. No wonder they’re everywhere. A blue jay would land right in the middle and chase everything else off. Reptilian.
My favorite was the flicker that would pick out every peanut and cry impatiently whenever none were left. A dull female cardinal showed up, its tawny feathers interrupted with gray. There was a red-shouldered hawk patrolling the area, and one afternoon I watched it tackle a junco midair and carry it up to a snag and feed.
Birds aren’t my thing, but these are the sort of accessible moments which suck people in to wildlife conservation and a greater awareness of the world around them. Beginning February 17th, Audubon and the Cornell Bird Lab begin the Great Backyard Bird Count, a massive, collaborative, long-term citizen science project which helps quantify trends in bird populations across the continent. Birds aren’t my thing, but I’ll still be participating.
So should you.