Thursday, January 27, 2011

Birder Profile: Bill Fenimore

Bill Fenimore
Farmington, Utah
How did you get into birding?

My mother was my birding mentor when a small child and she fed birds in winter. My hook bird experience was a Green Heron when I was 9 years old, and as they say, the rest is history.

Can you tell us the story behind the Green Heron?

(selected text from Bill's Backyard Birds series, used with permission)

When I was just five years old, I can remember my mom throwing bread crumbs on the snow in winter for house sparrows to eat. These birds were interesting to watch but they were not hook birds. A few years later when I was 10 years old, I saw a strange looking bird while fishing along the Chester River in southeastern Pennsylvania.

I had no idea what it was. At that age, I could have told you what a house sparrow, starling or a robin was but that was the extent of my bird knowledge. However, this bird was like none of those familiar birds. It was perched on a log, close to the water surface.

Its bill was long and pointed. The bird was motionless, like a statue, watching small minnows swimming ever closer to its position. It was a slender bird, I noticed with blue and green feathers on its back. It had a dark cap with shaggy feathers on the back of its neck. The head and neck were a chestnut color.

Suddenly, without warning the bird struck. Its bill pierced the water and it came up with a minnow, neatly held at the tip of its bill. The bird quickly swallowed his catch and with a bold abrasive kyowk flew off, soon out of sight, around a bend in the river.

I stood there watching in amazement, as the bird disappeared. What bird was that I asked myself? Later that day I was telling a neighbor who was a biology teacher about the strange bird. He went into his house and brought out a book about birds. He instructed me to look through the book and see if I could identify the bird that I had seen along the river.

Turning the pages of the field guide, I was impressed with the many beautiful birds that were illustrated on each page. There were so many birds and all new to me. They had names that I had never heard of before: crossbill, sapsucker, oriole and so forth. Suddenly, turning the next page, I saw the exact bird that I watched catch the minnow. Excitedly, I pointed it out, “there it is,” I said.

"Why that is a Green Heron," he told me. I borrowed the book to study more about this and the other birds. The book was written and illustrated by Roger Tory Peterson, A Field Guide To The Birds. I studied the Green Heron's picture the rest of that day.

What an amazing bird, I thought. What a great bird book with all manner of strange birds illustrated in it. That night at the dinner table, I announced to my family that I had seen a Green Heron while fishing. "What is a Green Heron," my father asked me. I pulled out my book and showed him the bird's picture. He stared at it and said, "I've seen this bird before. We always called them Mud Hens. I never knew their proper name."

I was dumbstruck! As a young fellow, I thought that my Dad knew everything. To think that there was something that he didn't know and that I now knew was a very amazing circumstance. The following day, I showed my friends the bird's picture. None of them knew what it was. Well, now I was really onto something. I could study this book and learn about birds. Then I could tell my family and friends about them.

How long have you been birding?

61 years.

How often do you go birding? And where do you regularly go birding?

I lead weekly bird walks throughout northern Utah and guide birders throughout Utah and other venues, such as Puerto Rico, Alaska, Arizona, Texas, Pennsylvania, New York, New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland, Nevada and California.

Where is your favorite place to bird in Utah? In the U.S.? in the world?

Deseret Ranch, in northern Utah, Alaska and Caribbean.

Do you have any local birding hotspots that may be yet unknown to other birders that you would be willing to share with us? 

Deseret and Lytle Ranch in Utah are the two premier birding locations.

Where in your state/province would you say is the most under-birded place that may have great untapped potential? 

 La Sal Mountains

How would you describe yourself as a birder? A “watcher”, a “lister”, a “chaser”, all of the above, or something else? 

A field birder who delights in introducing others to the beauty of nature through birds.

What kind of birding equipment do you use?

Swarovski binoculars and spotting scope.

How do you keep track of your bird observations?

A journal and life list. I find it quite fun to read stories to my grandchildren of the adventures that I have enjoyed while on birding tours and trips that I lead.

What is your favorite bird sighting and what is the story behind it? 

My favorite bird is the one with feathers. My hook bird story is one that I enjoy telling, since it was the beginning of a wonderful journey that I have enjoyed these last 60 years, as I bird my way around the yard, state and country.

Which birding publications and websites do you read and recommend?; www.UtahBirds.Org; Cornell Lab of Ornithology, American Birding Association, WeLoveBirds,;

Which is your favorite field guide and why? 

I feel compelled to own one of each. I have more than 100 field guides. The one that I carry into the field today is the small version of Sibley, the latest edition of the National Geographic and Kenn Kaufman’s North American Birds.

Which three books from your personal birding library would you recommend?

My own Backyard Birds of Utah, by bill Fenimore and my other state Backyard Birds Guides that have been published: California, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Maryland, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Texas, Virginia and Washington (, Publisher). The other states are in production to complete a 50 state Backyard Birds Guide set.

I would also recommend Scott Weidensaul’s , Living On The Wind and Clayton White’s, Peregrine Quest.

What motivated you to write the Backyard Birds series?

After retiring from my professional career, I decided to open the Wild Bird Center. It is my retirement business (10 years this year). During this time, I have a wide range of traditional field guides that I sell to customers. Over time, customers would come into the store or call me on the telephone and ask me to help identify a bird that they had seen. Remembering the excitement that I had when getting help to identify my hook bird, I willing complied. Many of these folks had purchased field guides but were unable to find the bird of interest in the guides.

The Guides I soon learned contained to much information and photos of "all" the birds nesting north of Mexico. What I soon discovered was they needed a bird guide that focused on the most common birds that they were likely to encounter in the backyard. Their backyards was the territory they were most interested in and field guides covered too many birds from all areas of the country.

I searched for a simple guide to help them and could not find one. Over time, as I looked and talked with publishers, I realized the guide I wanted had not yet been written. This is when I decided that I needed to design and write a Backyard Birds Guide. And the rest is history, as they say. Gibbs Smith is the publisher and the books (15 state guides completed and the others in production).

Do you have any formal bird-related education background?

I studied birds through Cornell Lab of Ornithology, taken the Master Naturalist Class through USU, and completed a Naturalist course with the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources, as well as a life time of birding and learning in the field.

What future birding plans do you have?

Leading several birding tours for those who want to get out and enjoy nature, particularly the tour that I will lead in July to Nevada’s Ruby Mountains for the Himalayan Snowcock.

Are you involved with any local or national birding organizations?

Audubon Society. I served as the Utah Audubon Council Advocate from 2004-2009.

What is your nemesis bird?

 Montezuma Quail.

Any birding related pet-peeves you’d like to vent about here?

So many birds, so little time . . .

Anything about your family you’d like to share with us?

They all have a deep seated appreciation of nature that was nurtured through birding.

Outside of birding, what are your other interests or hobbies? 

Writing, speaking and operating the Wild Bird Center, Layton, Utah (

If you were a bird, which species would you be and why? 

Likely a raptor of some sort.

Total life list? 714

Your mission in life as birder? 

To introduce as many to the wonders of nature through the keyhole of birding.

Anything else that you would like to humbly brag about?

Bill Fenimore, author, educator, naturalist, columnist, writer, and field birder owns and operates the Layton, Wild Bird Center. He is author of the 50 US State Backyard Birds Guide series on the joys and “How To” of birding.

The American Birding Association bestowed Bill with the Ludlow Griscom Award its highest and most prestigious honor for outstanding contributions in Regional Ornithology, June 2008.

In commemoration of the 100th anniversary of the birth of Roger Tory Peterson, The Roger Tory Peterson Institute of Natural History presented The Roger Tory Peterson Nature Education Achievement Award to Fenimore, July 1, 2008.

He gives seminars and workshops on Backyard Birding Basics and Landscaping for Wildlife. Bill leads field trips on nature, with a bird focus through the Wild Bird Center.

Fenimore was appointed by Governor Gary Herbert to the Governors Council on Balanced Resources, May 2010. Fenimore was previously appointed by former Governor Jon Huntsman to the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources Board of Directors in May 2009; Governor Huntsman had formerly appointed Fenimore to his Great Salt Lake Advisory Council; he is Vice Chair of the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources (DWR), Northern Regional Advisory Council. He serves on the Board of Directors of the Swaner Eco-Center, Utah Wildlife In Need (UWIN) Foundation and is a volunteer Naturalist for DWR. He previously served as the Utah Audubon Council Policy Advocate.

Birder Profile is a weekly blog segment at "Birding is Fun!" spotlighting a fellow birder.  If you would be interested in sharing a little about yourself and your birding experiences, please send me an email.  Is there a birder you'd like to see featured?  Please nominate that person by sending me an e-mail too.  Enthusiasm for birding is the only prerequisite!


  1. That first picture of Bill is exactly how I remember him! What a great profile of an amazing guy! He really is so kind and helpful!

  2. Bill's store has moved locations! It's now called Wild About Birds Nature Center in Layton, UTah. 1986 N Hillfield Rd. 801-779-2473. His son is now running the new store with his father's guidance. They just had their eleventh year anniversary on November 10th at the new store and it was a great success. We were so glad they just moved and hadn't closed!