Written by: Daniel Baldwin
After being a bird watcher for the better part of three years, I am used to the general stereotypes: birds are scary monsters; birds are really boring and just kind of sit there; and the famous “Bird watching? Like the thing sad old retirees do?” However, bird watching (or birding) has taken me on fantastic adventures and brought me immense joy.
The first question I get when bringing up birding to people is “Why birding?” Birding is an excellent way to get out in nature and go to unique places. But why can’t I observe any other old animals to get outside? Why is birding superior? First off, birds have adapted to live in all the places that humans do, making them easy to find. They spend the majority of their time on the ground, in trees, in the sky or above water. Those, coincidentally, are all the places that humans can observe very easily.
Birding is also an easy hobby to become involved in, as there is a far greater wealth of literature concerning birds and how to find them compared to any other type of organism. Well-written field guides can be found for most regions of the world, while only a smattering of guides exist for insects, mammals and fish.
In addition, birding is relatively cheap to get into. At the beginner level, you can download field guides for free and just use your eyes and ears to identify beautiful birds.
However, birding isn’t just standing around and admiring beauty. The art also requires a significant amount of spontaneity and adventure.
I have had the pleasure and privilege of traveling throughout the world to see amazing birds. Within the United States, I have hiked up an active volcano in Northern California to see a sooty grouse. In my international travels, I’ve visited the Galápagos Islands to see blue-footed boobies dive thirty feet to catch fish in the frigid Pacific waters. In South Africa, I was able to see African penguins waddling along rocky beaches. All of this goes to show that birding can bring a life of adventure and is not just the favorite sport of your local retirees in the park.
While birding often consists of planned adventures, a good deal of it is spontaneous. Once, I was on a musical tour with my class in Arizona. As we were visiting the Grand Canyon, walking along its edge and taking the occasional photo, I spotted it: the California condor.
The California condor is one of a handful of birds in the United States classified as code six: likely extinct within its native range. In the 80s, the total population of condors dropped to just 22 birds, at which point all of them were captured and brought into a breeding program. Now the wild population is rebounding, and there are currently 347 condors living in the wild. But not only are these birds very rare; they are also majestic.
The California condor has a wingspan of around 10 feet, making it the largest bird in North America. In fact, my field guide lists small airplanes as a species that could be confused with the condor. Seeing this massive California condor soar over the Grand Canyon reminded me of how amazing birds can be seen at any time, demonstrating the natural beauty God has gifted the world.
Birding is an exceptional hobby that is truly what you make of it. It has allowed me to bear witness to the complexity and majesty of God’s creation. Furthermore, I have appreciated how birding has pushed me to experience out of the way places and the breadth of the world.