Bird Alert!

By Erik Schneider, Greening Cream and Crimson Intern

Just before beginning a meeting at E-House recently, Assistant Director Emilie Rex exclaimed, “There it is again!”, as a striking red-headed woodpecker landed in a tree outside a second-story window. This impressive red, black, and white bird was a welcome sight not only for its startling color, but also for the fact that it’s become a rare sight, as this species has seen sharp population declines in recent years. Fortunately, Bloomington and the surrounding area have a wealth of natural habitat for many bird species, which also means there is a great opportunity for a hobby that’s growing in popularity worldwide, and grown on me over the past few months.

Birdwatching, or birding, can seem like an odd hobby, and maybe it is, but once you get the hang of it, it can be surprisingly enjoyable and even addictive. It’s basically a never-ending scavenger hunt, and the rarer the bird, the more points you get. Of course, there are no points, per se, but it can be competitive both formally and informally, with birders competing to find the most species on a given day or even year. It also provides a greater understanding of our natural world, such as how species depend on specific habitats to eat and reproduce.

While taking a class in Avian Conservation last year, I was a witness to some amazing sights, including the mating ritual of the endangered greater prairie chicken on a chilly dawn in the Illinois grasslands, and a flock of whooping cranes, of which only around 400 exist in the wild, at the newly created Goose Pond Fish and Wildlife Area near Bloomington.

Experiences with endangered birds like these show how it also can be a great way to contribute to conservation and sustainability. Birders will often send a list of what was seen on a given day to listservs that document species numbers, and they often participate in annual counts to gauge their populations. These are critical for determining priorities and potential remedial action. And it’s a great example of citizen science.

To get involved, all you need is a pair of binoculars and a field guide. I’d recommend either the National Geographic or Sibley guide. For local places to go, you can visit Griffy Lake, Yellowwood State Forest, Goose Pond, and the many other state parks and preserves in the area. Or, just take a look out the window.

Photo credit: http://www.yardenvy.com/images/Pages/Birders-Birding.jpg

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