"For the Birds" Index

New! †Jim B has opened a message board dedicated to the sharing of information about wild birds and the hobby of bird watching. Birders of all levels of experience and any location are cheerfully invited to join in:


For The Birds (vol 1)†††† ††† ††† ††† ††† ††† ††† ††† ††† ††† ††† ††† ††† ††† ††† ††† ††† ††† ††† ††† ††† ††† ††† ††† ††† †


March 19, 2002 Ė For the Birds originally appeared as a series of posts on the Cape Ann Online message board. It was aimed at the audience who sees birds in their day to day life and is curious about them rather than the hardcore or even intermediate bird watcher.

Whatís Happening

Lots of folks think the spring and fall are migration time. Actually it is almost always migration time. Some species of bird are on the move at any given moment. No doubt, many have seen that the grackles are back and , perhaps heard the CooonKoreeeeeee of the Red-winded Blackbird. Somehow they always make me think of Pink Floyd.

Red-winged Blackbird

Hawk watchers are in their glory now. One of the easiest ways to watch birds (and break up a boring commute) is to count the hawks you see as you drive along the highway. Almost all of the hawks sitting in tree along Rte 128 are Red-tailed Hawks. Look for a broad dark band across a mostly white belly. Often the red tails are indistinguishable. This is especially true if youíre your driving 65 mph. On a recent trip to Kingston, MA I counted 14 Red-tails by the roadside.

In the last week I have seen a Merlin over Annisquam and over Shaws Market. A Merlin is a small (pigeon sized) falcon. Broad-winged Hawks and Cooperís Hawks are sometimes seen over Gloucester but they are rare relative to the Red-tails. Hawks generally do not like to fly over water so look for a westerly component to the wind, pushing them where they donít really want to go, when looking for unusual Hawks.

Another hawk-like bird commonly seen from the bridge is the Turkey Vulture. Look for really big black-looking birds gliding with their wings in a flattened "V" shape. Like many of the larger hawks, Turkey Vultures like to ride on air rising as the land heats up to aid in their flying.

To see more hawks and owls without really trying, watch the crows. Look for crows squawking like crazy and flying into a tree. The behavior is called mobbing and is a united attempt on the part of the crow to drive off the raptors. If you locate any owls, please do NOT post their location.


One of the many joys of birdwatching is one does not require a lot of equipment to do it. Look thereís a bird. Hey, hereís another one. But if you get into it any deeper you are going to want to buy stuff to make the whole business more enjoyable. In this section I hope to write reviews on field guides, optics, books etc for the beginner.

For now I will be very general. Field guides are books used to help identify birds. There are two different general approaches to field guides. One type has photos, the other drawings. Drawings show an artistís conception or generalized view of the birds while photos show a particular bird at a particular time under particular lighting condition etc. My advice? Go with the drawings. Most folks find an abstract view of the bird easier to use in a variety of sighting situations than the distinct individual photo.

As for optics, well, everyone has a view of Miss Jane Hathaway running through the woods shouting yooohooo at birds while wearing binoculars. That aside, binoculars are as much a part of a birdwatchers uniform as cleats are to a baseball players. As mentioned before you donít really NEED any of this and, in fact, if all you have is an old Tasco or Bushnell binocular someone bought for twenty bucks at Ames, you may be better off without it. Expect to pay about $150.00 or better for a decent binocular. Donít waste money on junk.

In the future I will address specific recommendations for stuff.


Why I watch birds

As a youngster I remember camping out and listening to the Chickadees and the Whip-poor Wills in New Hampshire. For the next forty years I was pretty much oblivious to birds. (I was oblivious to a LOT of things but thatĎs a different story.)

On the day I moved into my new home in Gloucester I had my epiphany bird. I had just finished moving in the last of the furniture and was lying on a lounge chair starring up into the blue depths of the sky and just vegging out on that Fatherís Day of 1995. Suddenly aí Pterodactyl flew about twenty feet right over my head startling me out of my well-earned rest. It was a Great Blue Heron and Iíll never forget it.

Form my house the question is not why watch birds but rather how one avoids it? I started to get into watching the herons and egrets and I was hooked. I joined the local bird club and began going on the organized walks. I went on eBay and bid on dozens of bird books. I spent more on optics than I am willing to admit. I started photographing birds.

Now, folks who get into this often go off onto many of the subgroups of birdwatching. Some get scientific, others are die-hard environmentalists. Some just like to be outside walking around and birding is a good excuse for it. Some see birds as art and develop a deep appreciation for color and subtle lighting. I see it as something spiritual.

It happened like this. I had always considered myself a bright, aware and observant guy. I thought I had pretty much seen all there is to see. As I got into birdwatching, I started to see more of what was always there. Where a non birdwatcher may only see four or five different species a day it is not unusual for me to see forty even when Iím not looking.

A lot has been made of extra-sensory perception (ESP), the paranormal and the like, but I quickly understood how much of what was easily perceived with the five normal senses I had been trained to disregard. Birdwatching helped redevelop my ability to see and hear.

One day I was driving to work. I drove by Browns Pond in Peabody just as I had for years. This time I saw some ducks on the pond. I stopped, got out, and really looked at them for the first time. They were beautiful Greater Scaup and a thought just popped into my head. "What beauty has God put in front of you that you have failed to notice!" There I stood the embodiment of human ego, humbled by a duck.


On bird feeding


On binoculars and spotting scopes


Whatís happening, a daily compilation of observations by local birders


The local bird club


An on-line field guide


Jim Bís Online Bird Photos


"For the Birds" Index