Most, if not all, outdoorsmen love nature and like to see wild creatures at their daily business.  Which is why many a time I’ve bagged my requisite two squirrels for dinner, then lingered to watch others frisk among the leaves.  Or sat quietly while a small herd of deer foraged for acorns.  I like to see a flock of mallards flare, then set their wings and drop into the decoys, and also like to see perky little chickadees in my bird feeder.  Or a raucous bluejay dominate smaller birds for possession of sunflower seeds. 

The time is coming when winter storms and bitter days will end most hunting and fishing, and when those months arrive, a bird feeder and the bits of brightly colored, feathered life around it will brighten your house bound hours.  Actually, feeding and watching birds is becoming a major national sport, and Americans spend more on bird seed each year than the gross national product of some developing countries.

More and more people feed them year around too, and most of us can easily recognize common types like robins, cardinals, bluejays, and English sparrows.  But there’s a trend now to take the sport much more seriously, and even make special trips to watch hawks migrate through West Virginia hills or see shore birds at Point Pelee on the Canadian side of Lake Erie.

Many these days maintain a check list, and faithfully record every new bird they see.  For some, that check list has grown to over 100 birds.  And finding new ones can be a major thrill for the serious.  Like an extremely rare painted bunting seen last year at Magee Marsh, or a burrowing owl or brown pelican, unusual visitors to Ohio that do turn up occasionally.

Local bird watchers are fortunate in that they have some excellent places to go.  Magee Marsh was recently ranked in Wild Bird Magazine as the seventh best birding place in North America, and there are many more birds in various wildlife areas and marshes from Lake Erie to the Ohio River.  But even your backyard can turn up the unusual, or a nearby fencerow or plowed field. You never know, and any thumbing through a Peterson’s Field Guide To Birds can reveal a new trophy.

Again, for the serious, the Ottawa County Visitors Bureau (800-441-1271) participates in a Wing Watch each spring and fall with other organizations, and helps organize field trips and outings for bird watchers.  There are also organizations like the Kirtland Bird Club, which publishes the Cleveland Bird Calender, and has for 90 years.  And publications like the Ohio Cardinal, 223 E. Tulane Rd, Columbus, OH 43202, and The Bobolink, 1120 Hudson Drive, Wooster, OH 44691.  All worth reading.

Any serious bird watcher should eventually take a course in Ornithology, because birds do strange things, and such a course explains them well.  One crucial point is that their cerebrum (thinking part of the brain) is REALLY tiny, so most of what they do is by instinct.  For example, they imprint on a nest site and once imprinted, that’s where it will be.  You can tear a partially built nest down 50 times, and they’ll build it again. No choice.

And why do they feed their young?  Because they love them?  I once read a study where graduate students removed four baby robins from a nest and replaced them with wooden cubes painted the exact color of a baby robin’s throat.  After a few hours they had to be removed, because the cubes were totally smeared with worm intestines, berry fragments, insect pieces, etc.  The color triggered the feeding mechanism, not the babies.

Again, a fascinating business, and fascinating creatures.  If you’re looking for a challenge this winter, buy a Peterson’s and binoculars, and get a check list.  The birds are waiting.

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