Why I Bird

A new birder weighs in on reasons for starting out.

By Megan Morgan

You read correctly: “bird” can be used as a verb, and not necessarily by the birds themselves. Birds don’t bird. I bird. And I’m quite human.

The action of birding generally means watching wild birds in their natural environments. But “bird watching” is just too passive an expression, I think. If I want to watch something, I’ll watch a Thunder basketball game.

But I’m not out in my backyard squinting and straining my neck in order to sit back and simply watch birds. I bird to experience birds.

So what does this mean? Admittedly, it sounds a little new age-y, but birding gives me a sense of wonder that almost nothing else can.

Once, when observing an American Robin scrabble around in the undergrowth, a species of woodpecker flew into my binocular range. I had never seen this species before. Leaves shifted overhead, and then the shocking contrast of the woodpecker’s clearly defined black, white, and bright red was suddenly in the sunny spotlight.

The scene made it look like all the colors in the world were turned up a few notches. It brought tears to my eyes. This made the rest of the observation slightly blurry, but that brief moment when I was caught off-guard and slapped in the face by natural beauty was all I needed. I was hooked on birds, and the feeling of awe that they give me when I truly pay attention to them.

And to think, this scene would have played out in the exact same way had I not been crouched there with my binoculars, watching. I find it humbling that daily dramas in nature play out constantly whether or not mankind is around to see them.

Look around, really, I started to tell myself. Once I started noticing birds, it now seems like they are everywhere. Some people might go to the zoo to see animals, but in truth, we are absolutely surrounded by highly visible ones every day.

When I started to take the time to see them for what they are, when the easily dismissed “short, black bird” became the lovable “loud-mouthed European Starling,” even the commonplace pigeon became suddenly fascinating. (Pigeons all seem to be colored differently! And they clearly know what they’re doing if they’ve successfully adapted to so many kinds of life all over the world!)

It makes me wonder what else I’m missing out there. There’s such incredible diversity right in front of our faces, and within our everyday soundscapes. How did I never before notice that bird calls and songs have provided a soundtrack to my entire life? Never again will I delegate the Carolina Chickadee’s clear-as-a-bell, four-noted song or the Northern Cardinal’s car-alarm call to the background. Because even when you can’t see them or find out where they are, birds are noisy creatures and you will always know they’re around.

Birds make me really consider my own humanity, too. Bird for too long, and I start thinking that they have figured out something about life that I haven’t. They gotta do what they gotta do, and they always know what they’ve gotta do. I’m jealous of that apparent assuredness and life-direction. That might be when I’ve really “gone to the birds,” so to speak.

So, I have my reasons. Just give me some more time out there, and I’ll be as hardcore as the rest of you two-fisters. Bird on.

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