Celebrating birds (and birders!) during COVID-19

by Ioana Seritan

August 4, 2020

This spring is a historic one. For us birders and nature-lovers, sheltering in place during spring migration is a tough pill to swallow. You might have had tickets to a far-away location to soak in the migrants. You might have been planning to attend a festival and reunite with distant friends. You might have had a calendar chock full of group tours, road trips, or bird club meetings. For your own safety and the safety of others, you’re staying home… but now what?

Well, birds are what.

Other, more eloquent people have already extolled the wonders of birding during shelter-in-place (including Hannah Floyd in this post from March 16, 2020). The beauty of birding is that it can be done anywhere, anytime. You can bird in your kitchen while you drink your morning cup of coffee, or from your patio with a book.

And here’s one of the magical things about birds: once you start paying attention to birds, they permeate every aspect of our lives. You hear birds in radio and TV ads, or you catch glimpses during movies. I recently was surprised to find that I could identify a bird from a vague description during a podcast. (Not the American Birding Podcast, sorry Nate!) We are always learning new things about birds, or noticing birds in our day-to-day lives, whether we are outside or not.

So, here’s my question to you: How are you enjoying birds during COVID-19? Or, a better question would be, how are birds enriching your life during COVID-19? And when you come up with an answer, I would love to hear it.

In every Birding magazine, we run a column called “Celebrations.” This column is made up of the stories of ABA members just like you. Maybe you have already submitted a story, in which case, hello again! The point of “Celebrations,” in my opinion, is to answer exactly that question: how are birds (and birders) enriching your life? Any and all answers are welcome.

Often, the answer to that question has to do with a list. Many of us have lists, although those lists may look totally different from birder to birder. World lists, county lists, “birds I’ve seen while riding my bike” lists, “birds I’ve seen with funny names” lists.

However, we all know that lists are just the tip of the iceberg for birding. Every birder has a project or accomplishment that they’re proud of. It might be a checklist streak on eBird, a number of audio recordings on xeno-canto, or even a new friend they introduced to the joy of birding. One memorable story that we published in “Celebrations” came from Beth McBroom. Beth was thrilled to see a Bendire’s Thrasher, not because it was the most colorful or rare species she’s ever seen, but because its banding code matched her name: BETH. (Her submission was published in the April 2018 issue of Birding.)

You might even have someone that you are proud of. In the upcoming June 2020 issue of Birding, “Celebrations” will contain a beautiful memorial to a long-time birder and member of our community: Bill Drummond. Birding actually does not have a designated platform for memorials or obituaries. I think “Celebrations” is a more than fine place to share your memories of someone who shared their life with birds.

So yes, you’re stuck at home, but you still have birds to love, birders to recognize, and stories to share! As ABA President Jeff Gordon often says, there are a million ways to bird. Those million ways are just a little different right now than normal.

In my case, I’m really enjoying my first foray into fantasy birding. I’m participating in a game called “Yard Squad,” where teams of 10 birders, all of whom are in different locations, go birding in their yards or local patches and submit their eBird checklists to the team. (My team is called the Masked Go-Away-Birds!) I’m having a blast. The game is encouraging me to visit the exact same patch every single day, and I’m learning specific locations where I can find specific birds, and surprising myself when I find new ones. I saw 3 Osprey at once last week! It was thrilling.

This Turkey Vulture was doing a great job of social distancing when I saw it at my patch along the San Francisco Bay Trail on April 21, 2020.

So now that you’ve thought about it a bit more, I’ll ask again: how are birds enriching your life during COVID-19? When you’ve come up with an answer, I would love to hear it. My ears are always open at [email protected].

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Ioana Seritan lives in Richmond, California, with her partner and two birds. She is one of two Associate Editors for Birding Magazine. She also works as a wildlife rehabilitator with International Bird Rescue.