Friday, 21 January 2011

Birdie Matters

How much do you know about wild birds? Are you fond of their songs? Do you ever notice them on a busy street? Would you travel a long distance just to see a rare squeaker?

I must admit I could tell a sparrow from a stork, but I don’t consider this as a great achievement: the size difference is a pretty big giveaway. If asked to name some wild birds I’d probably manage about ten, but the problem is I wouldn’t know what all of them look like.


As years went by I noticed that birds can strongly influence my moods and even state of sanity. I like birds coming back home in spring as this cheers me up, but I’m afraid I’m ready to kill a few in the middle of the summer, when they constantly attack our cherry trees. Likewise in autumn, when they head for the sunny east, it makes me feel sad thinking that one more nature cycle is coming to an end. Up until recently winter was the only period when I didn’t think about birds - I’d have some sparse ideas on hanging some bird feeders, but they wouldn’t last long; and then spring would come…


I’m not sure what has changed, but at the moment I’m eagerly hanging apples, choosing the right birdseed and putting up fancy feeders, also trying to spot the little ones that have stayed here for the very cold and snowy winter. It looks like I’m developing a sense of compassion, well transferring it on the birds (just in case you thought I’ve never been a compassionate person), and turning into a bit of a birdwatcher*. The next stage might be birding, which “often involves a significant auditory component as many bird species are more readily detected and identified by ear than by eye” – for the moment it would be hard to practice this indoors, behind a closed window; and then – twitching, which, to be honest, scares me to death.


“The term twitcher is reserved for those who travel long distances to see a rare bird that would then be ticked, or checked off, on a list. The term originated in the 1950s, when it was used to describe the nervous behaviour of Howard Medhurst, a British birdwatcher. The main goal of twitching is often to accumulate species on one's lists. Some birders engage in competition to accumulate the longest species list.” I’m afraid all of this brings back memories of school competitions, where so much effort has to be put into staying at the top, being popular or in teenage terms – cool. I’m afraid there’s no competitive gene in my gene pool – so I will always stay just an amateur birdwatcher behind my Canon... All I need to do is to follow the code of conduct:

To promote the welfare of birds and their environment; to avoide stressing the birds by limiting use of photography (I’m trying to!); to keep back from nests and nesting colonies; and to respect private property (I haven’t moved anywhere beyond my garden yet!).

On the promoting bird welfare note: winter isn't over, so I hope you will find time to make a simple feeder and, after filling it with seeds or nuts, hang it somewhere for the birds to enjoy.
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*Birdwatching is the observation and study of birds with the naked eye, through a visual enhancement device like binoculars, or by listening for bird calls.

Did you know that?

- There are about 10,000 species of bird and only a small number of people have seen more than 7000. (From 2008 the top life-list has been held by Tom Gullick, an Englishman who lives in Spain and who has logged over 8,800 species.)

- Although the study of birds and natural history became fashionable in Britain during the Victorian Era, it was mainly collection oriented with eggs and later skins being the artifacts of interest. Wealthy collectors made use of their contacts in the colonies to obtain specimens from around the world. It was only in the late 19th century that the call for bird protection began leading to the rising popularity of observations on living birds.

- The term birdwatching was first used in 1901. It appeared for the first time as the title of a book "Bird Watching" by Edmund Selous.

- Most birdwatchers pursue this activity mainly for recreational or social reasons.

- Networks of birdwatchers in the UK began to form in the late 1930s under the British Trust for Ornithology.

- Initially, birdwatching was a hobby practiced in developed countries such as the United States of America and the United Kingdom. Nevertheless, since the second half of the 20th century citizens from developing countries started engaging in this pastime due to influence of foreign cultures that already practice birding.

- Twitching is highly developed in the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, Denmark, Ireland, Finland and Sweden.

- The most popular twitches in the UK have drawn large crowds.

- Twitchers have developed their own vocabulary. For example, suppression is the act of concealing news of a rare bird from other twitchers.

- Ethologist Nikolaas Tinbergen considers birdwatching to be an expression of the male hunting instinct while Simon Baron-Cohen links it with the male tendency for "systemizing”.

1 comment:

nikkipolani said...

I'm much more like your former self - recognizing a sparrow is different from a crow. Otherwise, it's "those tiny chubby birds twittering madly in the lemon tree," or "those with the grey and white bands that swoop across the yard."

I love the apples you've hung -- and it seems those pretty birds like them, too.