Ornithology is for the birds

Wood Storks by Bruce Stambaugh
These Wood Storks appeared in a marshy area in Coshocton Co., Ohio in August 2008. They normally are coastal birds in the southern U.S.

By Bruce Stambaugh

More often than not, birders take it on the chin just for being birders. Compared to football, American or Australian, it’s not exactly a contact sport, at least in the physical sense.

Birding is, however, very popular worldwide. That might be because of the many amenities that bird watching affords, and those that it avoids, like unnecessary roughness.

Why is birding so universal? Let me count the ways.

Birding is fun. Birding can be enjoyed by all ages. Birding doesn’t require a lot of expensive equipment, though you can spend big bucks if you so choose. Birding can be free. The birds come to you.

Black Vultures by Bruce Stambaugh
The owners of this camper probably didn't expect to get this friendly with these Black Vultures.

Birding can be enjoyed year round. Birding is an inclusive activity. Birding can be enjoyed by persons of any age. In fact, it is not uncommon to find entire families enjoying the sport together.

Birding is addictive, turning that usually negative word on its head. Once you learn a little about birds, you intuitively want to know more.

Birding is interactive. Birds get to know you. You get to know the birds.

Green Herons by Bruce Stambaugh
I had the luxuary of observing this pair of young Green Herons from my back porch.

Birding can be done anytime anyplace, hiking, biking, sitting, traveling, on the beach, in the woods, on vacation, or while at work. All are good times to “bird.”

Birding not only introduces you to new species. You make new friends while enjoying an outing, too.

Birding is both personal and interpersonal. You make your own sightings, but immediately share the information with other birders to verify the identification. Others do the same for you. Birding it is both a sociable and a social sport. It is a whole lot more fun done with others than alone.

Birders by Bruce Stambaugh
Birding is a social sport, best enjoyed in the company of other birders, whether novice or experts.

Believe it or not, birding can and does get competitive, but in a good way. Many birders compile a life list, an accounting of all the bird species they have ever seen, which includes when and where.

When a rare bird is spotted, birders shun selfishness. They call other birders or have it posted on a bird alert website. Soon scores of birders show up hoping to see the rarity for themselves.

White-winged Crossbill by Bruce Stambaugh
A flock of White-winged Crossbills spent a few days in the Holmes Co., Ohio area in March 2009. They migrated from pine grove to pine grove, including the one in my own backyard.

When a quartet of Wood Storks, birds usually found in Florida, appeared in Coshocton Co., Ohio awhile back, someone asked me if I had seen them. I hadn’t. They gladly gave me directions and I was ready to go. But I didn’t go alone. I filled my van with other birders, three generations who wanted to see the storks, too.

Birding leads to hospitality. You welcome birds by feeding them. You greet and meet other birders if you have a rare bird arrive, even having them sign their names and where they are from. That’s just common etiquette among birders.

Tree Sparrow by Bruce Stambaugh
This Tree Sparrow found the perfect refuge from a harsh winter's storm.

Birding invigorates your senses. The range of songs and calls of birds are often heard before the birds are seen. The amazing array of bird plumage dazzles the imagination.

Birders are polite and follow directions. Hundreds of birders from 37 states and 10 countries attended the Midwest Birding Symposium recently in Lakeside, Ohio. A Lakeside resident was impressed that the birders actually stopped for stop signs.

Birders are clean and emphasize being green, preferring reusable water bottles to disposable plastic ones. Birders are nice to others and the environment.

Birders are teachers. They are happy to share what they know and see.

For the birds by Bruce Stambaugh
This vanity plate leaves no doubt about the hobby of this driver.

Ornithology is the scientific study of birds. Given all their positive characteristics, the study of birders could be labeled “civility.” Birders clearly are their own special flock.

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