Westerly Sun Column | Spread Your Wings With Bird-Watching

February 12, 2024

Bird-watching has long been a popular activity, particularly among older adults and retirees, but in recent years it’s caught on among the younger generations as well! This could be attributed to the pandemic, which forced many of us to embrace outdoor activities. The advent of smartphones has undoubtedly helped, since we now have numerous bird-identification apps at our fingertips. Whatever the reasons, we certainly hope the interest continues to grow! In addition to the positive effect birding can have on your mental and physical health, your hobby can also have a profound impact on scientific research and conservation efforts!

Have you heard of Citizen Science? These are research projects that encourage the general public to participate, giving scientists the ability to gather and analyze way more data than would be feasible on their own. The most well-known bird-related project is the annual “Great Backyard Bird Count,” which helps scientists better understand bird populations before their migration. This year, the count takes place from Feb. 16-19, and it’s easy (and fun!) to take part. Just pick a location (I hear Wilcox Park is nice this time of year …), set a timer for 15 minutes, and make note of the birds you hear and see during that time period. If you have a smartphone, the Merlin Bird ID app will help you identify birds, and you can submit your count through the app as well. You can also log your bird sighting on a computer, or grab a tracking sheet at the library Reference Desk, and we’ll submit it on your behalf!

While you’re at the library, take a look at the books in our bird-watching display! There are handy guides like “Birds of Connecticut & Rhode Island Field Guide” by Stan Tekiela and “Slow Birding: The Art and Science of Enjoying the Birds in Your Own Backyard” by Joan E. Strassmann that can aid you in finding and identifying your avian friends. Then there are inspirational tales, like “Bird Brother: A Falconer’s Journey and the Healing Power of Wildlife” by Rodney Stotts. In between these are a large collection of books that will both educate and entertain, like “Why Do Bluebirds Hate Me?” by Mike O’Connor and “Flight Paths: How a Passionate and Quirky Group of Pioneering Scientists Solved the Mystery of Bird Migration” by Rebecca Heisman.

Whether you’re a longtime bird enthusiast, or just thinking about considering the possibility of dipping your toe in the birding water, you should join us at the library on Feb. 15 for a lecture by Dr. Charles Clarkson, director of avian research at the Audubon Society of Rhode Island. In addition to discussing the Audubon’s Avian Research Initiative and the work that is being planned for the future, Clarkson will discuss the importance of volunteer-collected data and how it can inform conservation. After the talk, he’ll lead a short walk through Wilcox Park! The lecture takes place from 2-3 p.m. on the 15th, and is open to the public. Happy birding!

by Cassie Skobrak, Adult Services Librarian

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