On Not Being a Birder

I heard recently that the average American can identify over 100 corporate logos, but only about ten plants. That’s a shame.

I suppose I have a pretty good working knowledge of the natural world. I can certainly identify a good deal more than ten plants. But by no means is my knowledge encyclopedic. I still have plenty to learn and I’m regularly reminded of my ignorance.

Take birds, for example. Despite being a nature lover, and despite being outside and in contact with birds every day, my ability to identify them is limited. I suppose that when it comes to birds, I’m probably smarter than the average bear. But at the same time, I’m deeply ignorant. To me, all little brown birds have always been chickadees, for example. While I admire birders, I’m not one of them.

But at least I’m not content to remain in my ignorance. I hope to never stop learning new things. And improving my knowledge of birds is one of the many things on my list.

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35 comments on “On Not Being a Birder

  1. BeeHappee says:

    Bill, for you then, en excerpt from “Believe This”
    By Richard Levine

    All morning, doing the hard, root-wrestling
    work of turning a yard from the wild
    to a gardener’s will, I heard a bird singing
    from a hidden, though not distant, perch;
    a song of swift, syncopated syllables sounding
    like, “Can you believe this, believe this, believe?
    Can you believe this, believe this, believe?”
    And all morning, I did believe. All morning,
    between break-even bouts with the unwanted,
    I wanted to see that bird, and looked up so
    I might later recognize it in a guide, and know
    and call its name, but even more, I wanted
    to join its church. […]

    Liked by 5 people

  2. And here, all along, I thought that all little brown birds were starlings.

    Ah well–live and learn! 😉

    Liked by 1 person

  3. The problem with being a bird lover is that the older one gets, the harder they are to see! So identifying them by song becomes more important. My husband got me a lovely little book/cd set called Birds of Pennsylvania. My guess is they have adopted excellent marketing techniques and have one in the set called Birds of Virginia. Highly recommended!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. nebraskadave says:

    Bill, birds are not my forte either. I know the state bird called a Meadow Lark, a Robin, a crow, a pigeon, and a few others but the list is short. Plants that I can identify are mostly noxious weeds or vegetables and a very few flowers. Flowers are an overwhelming group of plants for me. Not only are there so many different flowers but within each flower family there are many types of the same flower. A friend of mine gave me a book on the native plants of Nebraska. I was actually amused by the fact that almost every plant in my weed infested garden was edible. According to the book those plants that I try to keep out of the garden so hard are actually more healthful than what I’m trying to plant and grow. Hmmmm, maybe I’m going about this gardening thing all wrong. 😥
    Have a great bird identifying day.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Bill says:

      I think I know all (or at least most) the easily recognizable birds, but I don’t know all their songs. Sometimes I’ll see or hear birders listing the birds they’ve spotted on an outing and I’m embarrassed by the fact that I have no idea what most of them look like. And yeah I’m the same way with wildflowers. Know some, but don’t know most. Cherie is much better than me when it comes to wild edibles. They’re a special interest of hers and we benefit form the knowledge. 🙂 I’ve found that most of the weeds that grow it the garden are edible. We ate a lot of lambsquarters this summer and they all came up in the gardens.

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  5. Chris says:

    You’ll probably have better luck if you refer to the little brown jobs as sparrows. They are all fun to learn. I’ve been out once or twice with the local chapter of the Audubon society and had a mavelous time. I’ve got a lot to learn myself but know enough to say that it is a very different world once you know a few things. Similar to looking at a green wall of plant growth, after you learn to identify trees and shrubs you don’t see just a green wall but individual species. It is different. When you learn to identify bird songs and calls it has much the same effect. It’s no longer just “birds are calling” but “hear that titmouse and listen that red bellied woodpecker”, etc. You can go here http://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/search/ and put in whatever species you think are common in your area to listen to what their song/calls are like. Have fun!

    Liked by 1 person

    • BeeHappee says:

      That’s a great website, thanks for sharing.
      I had started the book “What the Robin knows” but did not read it all. Interesting stuff though. As this one, Tim Birkhead’s “Bird Sense” seems like a good one to check out, see the article: http://www.wsj.com/articles/SB10001424052702304451104577390042543700550
      What stood out for me from How to Raise a Wild Child and What the Robin knows, is that you need patience. The 30 minutes in the “sit spot” or can be the “working spot” to let the birds to come back to their “baseline”.

      Liked by 1 person

    • beeholdn says:

      Yes, what a wonderful site! Thanks from me, too 🙂

      Like

    • Bill says:

      Thanks for the link Chris. That’s exactly what I needed!
      I got an email from my aunt this morning after she read my post, gently scolding me for not knowing that chickadees are black and that it is wrens and some sparrows that are brown. I should have been more precise–I just lump all little birds (unless they’re goldfinches) together and call them chickadees. 🙂
      I love hearing birds singing. It’s especially nice very early in the morning when they’re waking up. I enjoy it when I’m in working outside and hearing birds I recognize–cardinals, mockingbirds, quail, whippoorwills. I’d love to expand that. Check out the poem Bee shared. Nails it.

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      • BeeHappee says:

        Bill there is also this little machine that most of our nature centers carry, and my kids love playing with it:
        http://www.amazon.com/Birds-Lyric-Identiflyer/dp/B00DDT4R22
        But truthfully, it is quite pricey for what it is. The websites are free, and there are also tons of apps for bird identification. I just checked my local Audubon chapter events, and thy have the big sit out – just to give you an idea, they sit at the lake from 3 pm to 10 pm and see what birds come. Almost like fishing for you. 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

  6. Joanna says:

    I am amazed too like Nebraskadave how many wild plants are edible and I am striving to add more to my knowledge. I am really interested in those that are good for health. I studied Pharmacology at University many years ago and so finding out that sometimes the herbs etc. work better than the drugs is amazing to me. I have no problem with modern drugs in their place, but I do think it is better to get to know some local plants that work for minor complaints is well worth the effort and cheaper. I have saved a lot on not having to take anti-histamines this year and using plantain instead

    Like

    • BeeHappee says:

      Joanna, how do you use plantain instead of anti-histamines? I was just bitten by a bee (what an ironic thing!) on my eye, so have a lot of swelling and redness and itching (looking like a Frankenstein for Halloween). Tried all types of home remedies, but not much luck so far. Maybe should try the plantain?

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      • Joanna says:

        Pick a leaf and chew it and apply the juice, wait a few minutes and it usually improves. For a bad reaction, it might take a few applications before it sorts it out, but at least it is cheap. The best thing for stings from bees is supposed to be bicarbonate of soda but I think that is straight after the sting.

        Liked by 1 person

      • BeeHappee says:

        Thank you, and Bill for plantain recommends. Yes, I did baking soda as soon as I could get to it, which was about 2 hours after the sting. and then the cure-all Lithuanian remedy of course, the raw potato. 🙂 They say onion too on the bee stings, but this one is on the eye. I am 2 days into it, the swelling is starting to come down a bit. We call plantain a “bandage” when we were kids, we would just put the leaves over all bruised knees.

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      • Deb Weyrich-Cody says:

        Hi Bee & Joanna, When I was a kid, we used a dab of clay (dirt; ) and spit to make an instant poultice for bee sting – it usually stayed on a little better than baking soda and was always available, no matter where or when you needed it.
        Also, although I’ve never used it for bee sting yet, I know Jewelweed/ Touch-Me-Not juice works like a charm for alkaloid toxins like Poison Ivy and Stinging Nettle(Barber’s Itch; )

        Liked by 1 person

      • BeeHappee says:

        Thank you for Jewelweed tip! Dirt and spit would work. I ended up asking local beekeeper at a farmers market and he gave me something he had, it helped a lot, plus I got a free one hour lesson on bees, so the pain was worth it. 🙂

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      • Bill says:

        Cherie’s bug bite salve takes the itch away from a bee sting instantly. I know the principal ingredient is plantain.

        Liked by 1 person

    • Bill says:

      Cherie made a salve for bug bites using plantain, among other things, and it was a big hit for us at the market this year. Thanks mainly to her we’ve been expanding our diet of wild edibles. As a friend of mine says, we need to stop saying “weeds” and starting calling them what they usually are: “food” and “medicine.”

      Liked by 2 people

  7. Until a few months ago, I was in the same boat. I couldn’t tell the difference between a cardinal and a robin. But I saw a program about birds and became very interested in learning more. I subscribed to a few newsletters and got some books from the library. I even went on a bird walk in Central Park. I have a lot to learn, but it’s been fun. I bet in your area, you’ll see many different species — many more than here.

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  8. shoreacres says:

    I’m pretty good with birds, but I’ve always been interested in them, and have spent hours feeding and watching. Wildflowers? Not so much. But I’m working on that, and in fact am just back from a wildflower watching weekend. The good news about flowers is that they’re much easier to take photos of so you can identify them later. They don’t move around so much!

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    • Bill says:

      I’m not very good with wildflowers either. And in some cases the names I learned for them as a child have turned out to be incorrect. I’ve got a lot to learn there too. I’ve enjoyed the Portraits of Wildflowers site that you brought to my attention long ago.

      Like

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