Sunday, October 30, 2011

Enthusiasm for birds is contagious

Posted by Heidi Ware

As November approaches, yet another season of migration banding at Lucky Peak is coming to an end for me. Not only was this my fourth season working with the Idaho Bird Observatory, but it is also my first semester of Grad School at Boise State. In the midst of all these new changes in my life, over the past two months I began to realize just how much things had changed in my attitude as a birder as well.

Sunrise on the last day of songbird banding for 2011
I apologize in advance for the “photography” that will regularly be a part of my posts.

These pics are from my cell phone :)

The famous Tennessee Warbler
This huge change in my thinking was really brought home to me on September 26. The crew at IBO always tries to convey our enthusiasm for the birds to our visitors, but on that day I suddenly noticed that the excitement of the crowd had kicked up a notch. The reason? We had just caught a Tennessee Warbler! (a rarity in our western state) The whole crew was gushing about this bird: “Look at that white belly!”, “Wow, look at that dark eyeline!”, “Aw, what a cute stumpy tail!”…soon the visitors joined in: “Its back is so green!”, “Its chest is so yellow!”, “Beautiful!”

Now, no offense to Tennessee Warblers, but when you’re catching male Townsend’s Warblers (or even just a Nashville Warbler) on the same net run it’s a little surprising that the crowd of mostly novice or non-birders was WAY more excited about this dull greenish-yellow bird than any of the others.

Tennessee vs. Orange Crowned Warbler
In fact, I remember many times when I received a lackluster response from visitors to very similar Orange-crowned Warblers. I may have even said similar things to people about the body color, the eyeline, etc. And it’s not like I said Orange-crowned’s were boring, but what my comments lacked were the “aw’s”, the “wow’s” and the “!!’s”. (It’s amazing what a few exclamation points can do!!)
some of the Tennessee Warbler crowd that day
I learned from the response I saw that day, and soon I began to pay more attention to what was particularly interesting about each bird, and what I might have been taking for granted. I thought about how a simple change in how I look at and think about each individual bird could make a huge difference in how I pass on my knowledge and enthusiasm about birds to those around me. I took cues from the kids who visited, and remembered back to the first time I’d seen these species. I know that a female Yellow-rumped Warbler was my favorite bird the first time I visited the banding station in 2008….but why? It’s those sorts of things that I forget sometimes. I know birds are cool, but sometimes I forget the simplest reasons why:

The surprise of white on a Yellow-rump’s tail: (photo by Robert Mortensen)
The candy-corn orange of a White-crown’s beak:
Birds’ clear eyelids that flash in from the side:

This season I realized one of the important aspects of birding and banding that I enjoy, but often don’t consciously appreciate. At the banding station we see all sorts of people: elderly Audubon Society members, mountain bikers trying to keep good time, parents with kids, hunters scouting for elk, a kindergarten class…They all bring such a unique perspective to what we do. And when we spend time with people who understand and enjoy birds on a completely different level than ourselves, we learn something! We can learn just as much from a 3 year old who only knows that birds’ feet tickle her hands as we can from someone who’s been birding for 30 years and knows every warbler chip and flight note. That’s the great thing about getting to work at the IBO, and I think birding in general, is the great mix of ages, birding skill, and life experience that everyone brings. Every time I hang out with a new group of visitors, my enthusiasm and love for birds is refreshed, and changed, by sharing the experience with others.


  1. What a wonderful and well thought-out post. I enjoyed reading it very much. I'd love to have the opportunity to participate in a banding project one day.

  2. Heidi, I don't know if you were there at the IBO that day, but once when I was visiting on top of Lucky Peak a family had come up to see the birds. They had a 8 or 9 year old boy that was really into the birds and had been studying his field guide intently. They were banding a Western Tanager, but allowed the young man to help them identify it. When he finally figured it out, he started crying tears of joy. He had never seen a Western Tanager before and it was on his most-wanted list. It was a touching scene.

  3. Heidi, I so agree! How wonderful it is that you not only get to study and help the birds, but that you get to share this love and this knowledge with others. Good for you and keep up the good work and the passion!

  4. Wonderful post. I love reading/hearing how your enthusiasm for birding is heightened by new discoveries.