“What kind of bird? What kind of bird?” my dad would call out quickly as soon as he heard the trill of a bird.
Growing up with a game warden meant being able to identify birds by their calls, critters by their prints, and all creatures by their poop. We knew what hunting season it was, based on whether Dad was practicing an elk bugle or putting turkeys to bed.
I considered myself a city child, as much as one could be growing up in a town of 750 people, and didn’t pay nearly as much attention as I now wish I had. Don’t get me wrong, I can easily distinguish a mule deer from a white-tailed deer. And I’m pretty reliable when it comes to scat identification. But what I regret most is not internalizing Dad’s enormous knowledge of birds.
As soon as my daughter was old enough to delight in the birds she saw, I was intent on helping her learn what kind of birds she was seeing. On our walks, I point out magpies and robins, crows and hummingbirds. But when she hears a bird’s song and asks me what bird it is, I rarely know.
My dad would be disappointed that one of the few calls I remember is that of a chickadee.
Change of Scenery
Due to COVID-19 precautions, I’ve been working out of my dining room for months. I missed my coworkers and the frequent meetings I had in person with people both inside and outside of the organization I work for. In other words, I needed something to spice up my work day.
I remembered the bird feeder and hummingbird feeder sitting in the garage, waiting for me to figure out the perfect place to put them up. They may not be in their permanent home, but now they are both perfectly positioned where I can see them throughout the day.
My bird identification books are now right next to my mouse. One is newer, and I reference it frequently so I can properly identify each new visitor to the feeders. I quickly thumb through its pages, relying on knowledge obtained from my dad to quickly get to the right section – jays, sparrows, finches.
The other book is housed in a small, worn black leather three-ring binder mended with tape. The original binding of the Birds of North America book is so worn out from my Dad’s use that it fell apart.
Every day when my daughter gets home from daycare, I tell her what new birds visited the feeder that day. House finch, Brewer’s blackbird, a to-be-classified goldfinch. The robins her great-grandmother loved as a sign of spring. The hummingbirds that remind me of my mom and home.
Next up? Re-learning how to identify their calls so I can excitedly exclaim, “What kind of bird? What kind of bird?”