Sunday, September 09, 2007

Birding

red tailed hawk

About ten years ago in the winter I was looking out the back door at a huge snow fall and a Red Tailed Hawk swooped down right in front of me and snatched a sparrow off the fence. I was so shocked and amazed! As soon as the roads cleared after that storm I went out and bought some binoculars and started watching for birds. I put up some bird feeders and read up on garden plants that the birds would like. I signed up for a birding class with my dad. For about four years we took the same class every spring with a great teacher. We went out to different parks early in the morning on Saturdays looking for warblers and other spring birds. I kept that up until Buddy came along and it got too difficult to get out for those long rambles. Now with two little ones I haven't spent much time on birding, but as they get older I plan on getting back into it. Birding is a great thing to do with kids. Here are my favorite birding books:

Peterson's Field Guide to Eastern Birds by Roger Tory Peterson. Houghton Mifflin Co., 1980. This is the absolute best bird book. You have to start here. Peterson's illustrations are complete and precise. If you are trying to tell the difference between a Krider's Red Tailed Hawk and a Harlan's Red Tailed Hawk you need the detailed descriptions and carefully drawn markings (with seasonal and age-related developmental differences) that Peterson gives. Also included is important range information, maps, habits, migration patterns and a description of the song or call of each bird. I take this paperback into the field with me and keep my life list of birds sighted on the included check list.

The Sibley Guide to Birds by David Allen Sibley. Knopf, 2000. This is another wonderful bird book with fabulous illustrations painted by David Allen Sibley. This type of book, with hand drawn or painted bird illustrations shows the markings with seasonal variations, views of the bird in flight and comparisons with similar-looking birds that you just don't get in the field guides that use photographs. Often when you see a bird it is just a flash of color and movement that is hard to identify. A field guide has to give you clues like Sibley does: "this large, conspicuous hawk often perches along roadsides. It hunts mainly mammals from a perch or by kiting... wing beats rather stiff, pumping...soars with wings in slight dihedral or broad U..." These descriptions are accompanied with silhouettes that show the wing shape while soaring. See this link on Sibley's homepage for an example of the identification tips he gives.

One more book my kids and my students have always enjoyed browsing is the Eyewitness Birds of the World by Colin Harrison and Alan Greensmith (DK Publishing, 1993). This one includes helpful information about the hobby of birdwatching, the anatomy of birds, how to identify different species, what equipment you need, and so on. The birds are shown in photographs, with accompanying sketches and silhouettes and short descriptive paragraphs. The Red Tailed Hawk is described as, "A typical open-country bird of prey, this species commonly seeks out rising air currents (thermals) on which it circles and soars while looking for prey." This book includes birds from all over the world, so there are many birds here that you are not likely to see and some of the variants from your region will not be described.

The Red Tailed Hawk in my photograph above was in my neighbor's tree yesterday. I was out on my porch taking pictures of the flowers and I heard a sudden commotion next door. The sparrows were squawking and fluttering around and then the Hawk zoomed around the corner of the house and landed in the pine in a flurry. He sat there for a couple minutes and then flew off. Hawks are very common around residential neighborhoods these days. They wait for roadkill beside the highways and stake out busy bird feeders around homes. They range from Canada to Central America. If you are seeing a bird of prey around your North American home there is a good chance it is a Red Tailed Hawk. The tail stripes and the light band along the bottom of the tail on this bird is a clear marking of a Red Tail.

What birds do you see around your home and garden?

6 comments:

Susan said...

You got a neat picture of the hawk. From trying to photograph our chickens, I know that catching birds digitally is hard!

We have a hawk around here on occasion, as well as many others like robins, goldfinches, sparrows, mockingbirds, catbirds, and occasionally some monk parakeets. They're bright green and very noisy; usually they stay down by the beach.

I took my first birding class in NYC when I lived there. Central Park gets so many birds landing there as a pitstop on Atlantic Flyway. It's amazing in the spring to find the warblers. Before the class, I had not even noticed them!

Mayhem said...

My family are big bird watchers. I went on many bird walks and bird counts as a kid. My uncle is a bird guide, of all things, and people from all over the world hire him to help them find particular types of birds! One of my cousins just finished his PhD in some area of ornithology. My dad always has several bird guides and his binoculars on his porch.

I thought we were all just bird geeks! So you're a birder, too, huh?

cloudscome said...

Yes Susan I never used to notice what birds were all around me either. Warblers especially - they seem to blend into the background unless you know what to listen for.. now I can't help but hear them and know who is there even when I can't see them.

I didn't know you had monk parakeets where you live!

cloudscome said...

Amanda! How interesting that your family is all birders! There are a lot of us hidden around... LOL. It's not something I talk about unless I know the others in the room are birders too. :)

Andrea said...

Ever since we moved into a house that had two birdfeeders (plus a suet feeder) set up within a couple yards of the house, our family has become amateur birders as well. We recently were given a nice set of lightweight binoculars, and now that we are homeschooling (and about to start a scheduled unit on birds, no less!), I'm feeling the need to get one of these books.

We have all the standard sparrows and other small brown birds I can't identify, as well as robins, cardinals (I love watching the pairs!), blue jays, and I was thrilled to see my first bright yellow finch in the wild, which, silly me, I previously thought were only in pet stores!

Mo said...

I could have used your recommendations last month when I was looking to purchase a 'good' field guide - as it is, I ended up buying the National Audubon Society Field Guide to Birds of the Eastern N. American Region; I like it, and it helped me to identify a marsh wren this week, so I'm happy!