by Bill Graham, Missouri Department of Conservation
Songbirds are free to roam, and their travels take them beyond wild places to the trees, shrubs, and grasses they find in cities or near rural homes. The Missouri Department of Conservation (MDC) encourages people to get outside this summer and look for birds in their yards or neighborhood.
Nuthatches and wrens will be looking in oaks and maples for insects to eat, or to carry back to a nest of young. Blue jays and bluebirds may be among the feathered visitors looking for food or nest sites. Robins enjoy pecking bugs out of a fresh-mowed lawn. People can simply enjoy listening to bird songs coming from the trees, or, they can use them as an educational tool, particularly for curious children.
Children learn by observation and thinking. Birds offer lessons in colors, numbers, geography, and biology. The lessons can be simple or complex, but a stimulation of wonder and curiosity is found in either approach. In times when people are sticking close to home, and children are getting restless in summer, birds await by simply stepping outside and listening or looking.
Simple birding tips:
Start a birding journal. Use a school notebook, scratch pad, or stationary. Keep it handy. Children will note an adult’s enthusiasm for the bird journal and follow their lead. Include all ages in spotting and watching birds.
Once or twice a day go on bird-seeking expedition in the back yard, the front yard, or perhaps a walk on the sidewalk. Take the journal. Teach the young to watch for birds, or to listen for their songs.
Ask questions, of yourself or those with you. How many different bird sounds can you hear? Where are they coming from? Can you see the bird or is it hidden by leaves? Is there a pair of binoculars of some sort in the household that would help spot them?
If you see the bird, what is the color and the size? Do you think it is male or female? Can you identify the species? How many birds have you counted today? How many counted so far this summer?
Being a simple birder is good enough. However, if you or a family member is interested, a wealth of information about birds is available online. If a species is determined, say a blue jay, are they migratory or residents, or both?
If migrants, where do they go and when? What do they eat? For example, if that smallish red bird doesn’t quite look like a cardinal. Perhaps it is a male summer tanager, one that spent the winter in Central America and is now feeding on bees and wasps in your backyard. If a female or immature male summer tanager is near, they will be a greenish yellow. Birds surprise with variety.
Bird feeders and waterers will attract birds in summer as well as winter. But they are not essential, as summer birds will be finding natural foods.
Early morning and sunset are the prime times for hearing and seeing songbirds. But any time of day the curious feel like an outside trek is good enough. Don’t forget to listen for owls at night, or to watch for raptors such as hawks and turkey vultures soaring high in the sky during the day.
Count them on the journal list. You can count birds heard in your journal listings as well as those sighted, like noisy crows.
Make some birding sorties a quiet time for listening and watching. When people are still, nature’s sounds and movement stand out.
Have fun, birds are enjoying summer, you might as well join them.
For help in identifying birds, visit MDC’s web page at https://short.mdc.mo.gov/Zhc.
Also, get general tips for birds and information about birds at https://short.mdc.mo.gov/Zhp.
The Cornell Lab of Ornithology offers a useful website called All About Birds that includes photos, bird song recordings, and information about habitats, diets, and migrations. Visit the site at https://short.mdc.mo.gov/ZhG.