This is Seymour – A frequent and friendly visitor of the Québec-Labrador Foundation’s (QLF) Montréal Office. Seymour is one of the many birds that I had the delight of viewing this summer thanks to my Communications and Conservation Internship at QLF. The foundation supports community-based approaches to conservation education, promoting the sustainable development of natural resources and the protection of wildlife habitats. As the study of ornithology is a big part of QLF’s work, I had the opportunity to learn about the practice of birding in Tabusintac, New Brunswick. Listed below are some key points that I would like to share about how to conduct a bird census.
1. Birding Conditions
- Time: To maximize your amount of bird sightings, it is best to seek out birds anytime from sunrise to 10:00 AM. If you are looking for a specific species, it can be helpful to research their breeding and migration times, which typically occur during the Spring and early Fall.
- Weather: Birding during days with clear skies is best for visibility. However, it can also be good to go birding after intensive rainfall, as many birds will then emerge to forage or to drink. It is also important to consider the strength of the wind, which can be deciphered using the Beaufort Scale. Conducting a bird census when the wind force is between 0 and 4 will produce ideal results.
2. Bird Identification
- Size: Learning the names of bird species is much easier if you memorize the names of the bird families (e.g. The family Strigidae encompasses all owls). Compare the size of the bird you have found to the size of the most common species of each family to facilitate its identification.
- Shape: Birds can be classified by their bill type and their wing shape.
- Color: Each bird species has a distinctive pattern of coloring.
- Vocalization: Birds have unique calls that signify different behavioral meanings to other members of their species. A big part of birding is listening to these songs and knowing which calls belong to which species. It can be helpful to learn how to whistle so that you can mimic the calls that you hear to lure the bird that you have spotted closer.
3. Birding Equipment
- Appropriate Attire: I cannot stress this point enough. Shown to the right is a picture of me in my field attire. If you look closely, you can see the insatiable and demonic mosquitoes on my pants and jacket. When birding in rough terrain outdoors, ALWAYS wear pants, thick socks, and hiking shoes with a solid grip. I recommend a light windbreaker and a hat with a brim as well. Your skin will thank you later.
- Binoculars: The whole point of birding is to look for birds, which are likely to be sitting far away in a tree. Invest in a good quality pair of binoculars that can focus well. Consider purchasing a spotting scope if you intend to become an avid birder.
- Pen and Paper: Rather than record the full name of the bird species, it can be more efficient to write down the alpha four-letter code of the bird species. The code consists of the first two letters of the first name, along with the first two letters of the last name (e.g. Canada Goose = CAGO). If part of the name is hyphenated, use the first letter of each hyphenated word and the first two letters of the single word (e.g. White-Throated Sparrow = WTSP).
- eBird: eBird is the world’s largest citizen science project concerning biodiversity conservation, and it is managed by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. The app serves as a place to gather information about bird species, distribution, and abundance from birdwatchers everywhere. Taking a bird census consists of walking in either a random or pre-determined trajectory and recording the birds that you see every set distance. Using the app, you can add how many of each bird you see into a checklist to submit as data to the larger database. The data helps ornithologists understand the sustainability of various bird populations globally. However, birdwatching can also be a casual hobby, so there is no pressure to contribute your bird sightings to this research.
Birding can be thought of as a science performed to analyze population trends. However, the practice of birding is also a patient art that offers a lot of serenity. It is a peaceful experience that attunes your attention to your surroundings and allows you to witness the beauty of nature. Hopefully the next time you look up to see something flying in the sky, you’ll be able to decipher whether it is a bird or a plane with the help of these points.