Bird-Watching is God’s Gift to Broke New Yorkers
Did you know that bird-watching is one of the fastest growing hobbies? It’s not just me, everyone’s doing it. According to a survey from the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the U.S. Forest Service, bird-watching is the 15th most popular outdoor recreational activity in the United States, ranking just above day hiking and visiting natural areas.
And according to a report by the US Fish and Wildlife Service, about one in five Americans are birders. Unfortunately, this is not an ethnically diverse group. 93 percent of people who say they like to bird watch are white. And the percentage of birders in small towns and rural area is much higher than in large metropolitan areas: 22 percent, compared to 12 percent.
I am riveted by these two statistics.
Because I have learned over the last year that bird-watching is God’s gift to broke New Yorkers. And I’m here to tell all those hard-working, backyard-starved urban warriors, that they really should be bird-watching because it is, surprisingly, the perfect urban hobby. For, like, a million reasons.
Reason #1: There are a lot of people here who know what they are talking about, and they will get you hooked.
One of the reasons bird-watching is soaring in popularity is the emergence of all the cool apps out there that help you identify birds. Seeing a cool bird in the sky and wondering what it is… that is pretty much the gateway drug to full blown bird-watching. Apps can be great, but there is no substitute for an experienced birder who can drop their wisdom on you.
One thing we have in big cities is people. Lots of people. So many people, it makes your head spin. It’s a can’t get a seat on the subway, can’t get your kid a spot in swim class, can’t get a doctor’s appointment for two months kind of situation.
But on the bright side, we have all kinds of people at our disposal who know about all kinds of things, including bird-watching. And not only are they extremely easy to find, they are usually extremely easy to hook up with. Walking through the park and looking at birds is a lovely and pleasant enterprise.
But walking through the park with an experienced bird watcher who can point things out to you that you never would have noticed, and who can tell you what you are seeing and give you some background… this is a completely different kind of experience.
Reason #2: Bird watching has an amazing fun-to-frugal ratio.
If you get seriously hooked on bird-watching, there are two slightly expensive things you might eventually wish to have: 1. some decent binoculars and 2. a camera with a zoom lens. But aside from that, bird-watching is a free hobby. And most people will not need either of the above.
We went on bird walks all summer and fall in Prospect Park with the Brooklyn Bird Club. Not only is this free, because people who love birds also love to share their passion, but the BBC actually provides binoculars on their beginner bird-watching walks.
I asked for my own binoculars for Christmas because I knew I was getting in deep and that I would use them often. Eventually, I would love to take better pictures than I can with my phone. Perhaps an investment for next year. But the point is, this is not a hobby that requires any upfront investment.
Reason #3: There are tons of amazing birds here!
Bird-watching in New York City is incredibly fun. There are so many birds to see, so many more than I ever realized. Bright red cardinals, and cute little black capped chickadees, redder than red headed woodpeckers, majestic, enormous hawks, slender gorgeous cormorants and so much more.
The spring migration is about to start, which is the best time for bird-watching, and we are fired up and ready, hoping we’ll see some birds pass through that we wouldn’t ordinarily have a chance to see.
Now is the time to get on board! Any New Yorker who watches the local news will remember the pandemonium caused by the painted bunting spotted in Prospect Park last spring. Seriously, people freaked out. It was a whole thing.
Reason #4: Bird-watching is an amazing activity for families.
This has been the best part of all, over at my house. My 5 year old son came bird-watching with me all summer and is now fully obsessed with birds.
Bird-watching is perfect for kids. Birds are even better than Pokeman! There are just as many, they have names that are just as crazy, and you can learn all their information. But unlike Pokemon, you can also go out and spot real ones.
My son is constantly drawing birds, he has various bird logs and he is willing himself learn to read and write so that he can log his sightings. He even asked for a “scarlet tanager” birthday cake, which I, of course, obliged.
Reason #5: No yard? No problem.
The yard behind my building isn’t mine to use, but I can still see it. The apartment behind ours has a bird feeder that attracts tons of birds, so it inspired us to get our own.
I spent about $30 on a smallish one that I hung from our fire escape. It has just been bird-mania outside our window ever since. It took a few days, but a house finch finally found it, told all his friends and now they are here every day. The male house finch is a beautiful reddish color… a pure joy to look at.
Some fun bird facts to send you on your way:
The state with the highest percentage of birders? Vermont, at 39 percent. The lowest: Hawaii, at 7 percent. Seriously, what the hell is wrong with you, Hawaii? You guys probably have the best birds! I guess it’s all “there goes another great frigatebird, yawn. Let’s go surfing.”
Resources for Urban Want-to-be Birders:
Apps: I don’t really use apps so much, but the birders that I have gone on walks with really seem to like Merlin, from the Cornell Lab, which helps with identification. Maybe we’ll give it a try this spring.
Binoculars: It’s hard to find a decent pair if binoculars for under $100. Even for an amateur bird-watcher, I wouldn’t recommend buying a pair for less. After doing quite a bit of research, I went with the Celestron Nature DX, which is a pretty good pair for the price. They have worked great for me. Binoculars are like cameras – you can spend thousands, and there is a difference. But I don’t have thousands, so these do for me.
Cornell Lab Feederwatch: Want to count your “backyard” birds for science? Join Cornell Lab Feederwatch and log all the birds you see. My kids love sitting with me and logging our data, and we can all feel excited that we’re contributing to science.
The FeederWatch season ends in April and begins again in the Fall. There is a small fee, about $18, to get your ID, but the money is obviously going to understanding the health of bird populations, and how to support them.
I’m on the Cornell Lab website all the time – it is a wonderful resource. Lately I’ve been reading about which native plants I can keep on my fire escape to attract more birds. (Don’t worry, I’ll do my best not to break any fire codes!)
Brooklyn Bird Club: For my locals – if you are not going on these Brooklyn Bird Club walks for beginners, you’re missing out. Free and fun, they have opened my family up to a whole new world.
Heather Wolf: Heather documents all the birds she sees at Brooklyn Bridge Park. I am a huge fan. Her book, Birding at the Bridge is a must for any Brooklyn bird lover. She leads walks at Brooklyn Bridge Park, which is definitely on our list to check out this year.
Field Guide: Rather than apps, we mostly use our field guide and the brains of whichever birder we are walking with. My son flips through our field guide endlessly, as do I. A useful resource, for sure.
We have a few different ones, but the one we use most is the Field Guide to the Neighborhood Birds of New York City. The more specific your field guide to your particular location, the better.
Favorite bird book for kids: We borrow millions of bird books from our library – my son can’t get enough. Our favorite is Look Up! Bird-Watching in Your Own Backyard. It’s perfect for city and suburban kids. We loved this one so much, we bought it.
Bird Feeder: We have some pretty aggressive squirrels behind our building, so we opted for this “Squirrel Buster” feeder. It’s great because if anything heavier than a bird jumps on it, the outer metal part comes down and makes the seed inaccessible. I only wish we got a bigger size since these finches are eating so fast!
It’s impossible not to mention the outstanding work done by the National Audubon Society and its many local chapters. For more than a century it has promoted education and conservation without political controversy.
But of course, in our current dysfunctional climate, conservation, the safeguarding of fragile habitats and protection of bird species and endangered species has, very sadly, become a liberal idea, as far as politicians are concerned. Even though most Americans support conservation. It was not always this way, and it should not be this way. If you like birds, support and follow the Audubon Society. They are fighting the good fight. And tell your Congressperson, too.
What say you? Do you like to bird watch in your park or backyard? Will you speak for the birds?
You Might Also Like
© 2015 Angel. All rights reserved