The Birding Curve
by C. E. Jones
(Deltona, Florida )
Backyard birding is a wonderful activity I enjoy with my wife and son. But like the old saying goes … it’s hard to teach an old dog new tricks!
I often feel like Bambi when he was corrected by Thumper the Rabbit. “No … that’s not a bird … it’s a butterfly!”
For me, identifying birds can be a bit of a challenge. It’s like I’m back in grade school!
Remember the learning curve?
It’s that crazy graph that’s supposed to represent your increase in learning.
Well, my learning curve for identifying birds … or should I call it my “birding” curve … is proving to be a pretty steep climb!
I first became aware that I was on a birding curve, shortly after we moved to Florida.
One evening, while sitting on our back porch, I noticed a group of rufous hummingbirds feasting on our Plumbagos. I was thrilled! To be that close to a hummingbird was quite exciting!
However, I was confused one day, when I read that the rufous hummingbird is a rarity for our part of the country.
After further research, and much to my humiliation, it became obvious that what I had been observing for all those months was the hummingbird MOTH!
At that point, my birding curve spiraled down a few notches!
A few months later, I set up one of our first bird feeders. I placed it immediately outside of the family room window. This was more for my benefit than the birds. However, despite the lack of protective shrubbery, it did manage to attract a few guests.
One morning I announced to my wife, “Look Sweetie! We have a baby cardinal on our feeder!”
Without exception, cardinals are the one bird I can count on seeing every day of the year. I had even witnessed a cardinal couple transporting nesting material to some undisclosed location on our property. So, it just made sense to me that this miniature version perched before me with the spiky little hairdo was their offspring. The fact that it was grey in color never made me question my assessment.
Much to my chagrin, I later discovered that the bird I observed was a tufted titmouse.
To memorialize my mistake, I decided to purchase a figurine of a tufted titmouse for my wife.
I scored big with that one! She really loved it!
So, I had a brilliant idea!
Wouldn’t it be fun to occasionally gift her with additional figurines of birds that frequent our yard.
And that’s exactly what I did!
Once her collection was complete, I proudly displayed them in our front window.
One morning, I received an urgent phone call from my wife. “Honey … a sharp-shinned hawk just crashed into our front window! His claw is caught in the screen!”
I may have learned how to identify a tufted titmouse … and I now know not to display realistic porcelain birds in my front window … but I still find myself trudging up a very steep birding curve.
Unlike his father, my son is a wizard of a birder! He would undoubtedly receive top marks in his class. Where I’m in need of flash cards to review my birds, he has all their shapes, markings, calls, and songs committed to memory.
Recently he called me out on a new strategy I’ve developed. “Hey, Old Man! What’s up with taking pictures of birds and identifying them later?”
He found out that I love to use the Cornell Merlin Bird ID app! All I have to do is take a photo … submit it … and the app will help me narrow down my choices!
When you’re on a birding curve, you do what you have to do to move ahead!
Needless to say, identifying birds has definitely challenged my mental capacities!
I now even enjoy sketching birds! This creative activity is a great assist when attempting to remember all those frustrating little identification details.
I may not be the brightest kid in the class, but I wouldn’t trade the wonderful backyard birding experiences I’ve had with my wife and son for the world.
Even if it means hiking up a birding curve.