The Beauty of Birds

Three greater yellowlegs competing in an eating contest
Female lesser goldfinch

When I was a kid, I never thought I’d be a “bird person.” I did briefly consider going to college for zoology, and I’ve always been an “animal person,” but the obsessive fascination of a birder was not originally in my cards. Except that it most definitely was, and I had no idea.

Male house finch, rarely actually found in houses

Turns out that bird loving is in my DNA. My great-grandmother had a full fledged aviary next to her house, where she kept lovebirds and exotic finches. Her birds were the pride of her meager home, which at one time was likely the stable hand quarters of an old, defunct ranch. Her daughter, my grandmother, also had a small aviary of finches when I was small. Back then, those chirping little twerps annoyed me, but I’m sure I would find them fascinating now. I think I take most after my grandfather, though, in that birds are much more interesting in the wild. Grandpa’s patio garden is lined with bird feeders, and we often swap stories of goldfinch, jay, and hawk behavior. 

Female broad-tailed hummingbird

I love the biodiversity of birds. There are an estimated 10-13 thousand species of birds in the world, and approximately 2,050 are native to North America. Birds are found on every continent, in every biome, habitat, and corner of the Earth, and scientists likely still haven’t discovered every species. And behaviorally, they are so much more interesting than people. Put a feeder up outside your window, and see what I mean. Chickadee and nuthatch politics are wild!

Ash-throated flycatcher

I also find dinosaurs fascinating. That fact may seem unrelated, but the reigning theory is that dinosaurs adapted into the avian species of today. Have you looked at a pelican recently? Or an ostrich? Or an egret? There’s definitely a resemblance, and tens of millions of years can do a lot to DNA! When I watch a Spotted Towhee aggressively claw at woodland leaf litter, my imagination sees a tiny procompsognathus scavenging in an ancient redwood forest. A pair of scrub jays squabbling over a meal are two oviraptors arguing over a dinosaur egg. And a blue heron, motionless, patiently waiting for an unsuspecting fish or frog is a velociraptor ambushing it’s Cretaceous mammalian prey. I could go on, but I think you see it too now.

Tree swallow

Most birders will talk about their “spark bird”, the first bird that caught their attention and fueled their obsession. I don’t have a spark bird. I have a spark feeling. During the pandemic, I needed a hobby that would get me out of the house but away from people. My anxiety definitely became more pronounced, and I’m already neurotic as it is without the constant threat of a lethal and permanently damaging virus looming invisible in public spaces. Plus everything public was locked down anyway. I couldn’t go the cinema, my first favorite pastime, so I took up hiking. While hiking, I started to notice just how many birds there are, so I bought a pair of binoculars, and here we are a year and a half later. Birding gave me a reason to get out of the house and enjoy the world again. I discovered that just sitting outside and listening to the birds is soothing. The squawks and squeaks of red-winged blackbirds and the inquisitive whistles of lesser goldfinches are my white noise. You don’t really have to go out into the wilderness to see birds. There are 19 species that frequent my backyard alone! This appreciation also made me a stronger advocate for protecting Earth and its wildlands, which are integral to our survival and the survival of the wildlife around us. So the next time you want to march against the destruction of our rainforests, count me in! I will be bringing my binos, so please don’t expect me to hold a sign.

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