I have been birding — looking at, listening to, and identifying birds — since I was a kid. Though it once seemed like something I only shared with folks my parents’ age, I am seeing more and more kids and young adults outside, binoculars in hand. For a lot of us, birding is a way to interact with nature by watching these little winged creatures interact with it, too. It gets us outside and allows us to take a break from studying or working, or from just sitting on the couch mindlessly scrolling through our phones. For me, it’s a way to respectfully enjoy the outdoors. You have to stay quiet, keep a safe distance, and do your best not to disturb the birds or their habitat. It keeps me in constant awe of the world and the creatures with whom we share it.
Here on the UMassD campus, we are pretty lucky, habitat-wise. We have trees, brush, fields, and even a pond. This allows for all sorts of birds to stop by, nest, or winter over. Yes, winter! Though winter can easily get the best of our happiness with its short days, cold weather, and general lack of color, many birds still call New England home. Walking through campus, I hear black-capped chickadees, Northern cardinals, white-breasted nuthatches, dark-eyed juncos, and downy woodpeckers. Not to mention both American and fish crows, and those pesky Canada geese that block Ring Road whenever they feel like it (okay, I don’t love those guys). I have seen red-tailed hawks swoop by the library windows and turkey vultures soaring high over the campus center while herring gulls warm themselves on the roof. One of my favorite year-round birds, cedar waxwings, congregate in large groups on winter berry trees, the flashes of yellow on their tails brightening even the dullest of days. It’s a nice reminder that we are not alone in the cold, and that life can thrive, even when the temperature dips below 30.
Though birds are feeding and flying throughout the day, they are most active in the early morning hours. So after your next all nighter, on your way home, take a deep breath and an extra few minutes to look for or listen to some brave little songbirds who are making the best of their winter habitat, just like you are. Then, by all means, go to bed!
If you are interested in learning more about birds and birding, the Cornell Lab of Ornithology has a fantastic website (https://www.allaboutbirds.org/) and a free app called Merlin Bird ID, which can help you identify birds based on your location and description of their appearance. The library also has some guides that birders, beginner to advanced, will find useful:
A Birder’s Guide to Eastern Massachusetts, Claire T. Carney Library 5th Floor – General Collection (QL684.M4 B54 1994)
The National Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Birds. Eastern Region – Claire T. Carney Library 5th Floor – General Collection (QL681 .B77 1994)
Birds of North America – Claire T. Carney Library 5th Floor – General Collection (QL681 .K36 2000)
Written by Rachel Baum, Social Sciences & Data Services Librarian