When we step out into nature, we are constantly surrounded by amazing things. It takes a careful and patient eye, but for those who are willing to look, there are wonders all around. 

For seasoned and amateur naturalists alike, few spectacles are as exciting as bird migration. This bi-annual event, occurring in the spring and fall months, see’s 3 BILLION birds travel across North America. It’s happening right now!

For all of us, birds hold special meaning. They are woven into our stories, celebrated in our cultures, and endeared by all who have taken the time to appreciate their beauty and diversity. For those of us who call ourselves “Birders”, it is the birds' vast and spectacular diversity which captivates our attention so devoutly. 

So, what is a birder?

A birder is someone who not only appreciates looking at birds, but is someone who wants to know about their lives. Who they are. Where they go. What they do. The goal is as much the appreciation of their aesthetic beauty as it is about understanding the life of another organism. The more you learn about their functions and forms, the more you will want to know about the world they live in. 

Here in the Chesapeake region we have no shortage of birds to appreciate! Even this Scarlet Tanager (at right) can be found right in your own neighborhood!

In fact, more than 450 species of birds have been documented in just Maryland alone. You’d be amazed at what is hiding right in your backyard, especially during migration!

So, why would a bird migrate?

For most species, it is the pursuit of space to raise young with fewer predators than are found in tropical regions. But, for each species the reason is slightly different. 

Matthew 6:25-34 “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on...Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them." 

Whether specialized for life on the water, in a swamp, or high in the canopy, each bird species is highly adapted to benefit from a specific food resource. Come the winter months, many of these food resources become scarcely available and force birds to flee from their breeding grounds for warmer southern climates. Whatever the reason, it can be a humbling experience to recognize that you are looking at a bird that still has thousands of miles left on its journey. 

So, how do I become a Birder?

Anyone can become a birder. It’s delightfully easy to get started, and is something you can pursue for your entire life. You just need 3 things!

  1. Field guide! Any regional guide will do, but you will most importantly need a tool that will help you with identification. There are hundreds of kinds of birds, and many look surprisingly similar. Check out a local used book store for a cheap guide to get yourself started. There are also a wonderful array of Apps, many of which are free. These can be particularly helpful for teaching you the sounds! Each bird has a unique “song” and “call” that you can learn. Some experts will tell you that birding is 90% by ear!

  2. Binoculars! Or, anything that will enable you to see just a little bit further, and a little bit clearer. Got an old 5lb pair? Perfect! Opera spectacles? Perfect! A periscope? That’ll do! You don’t need to jump straight into buying an expensive pair, there are tons of sight-improving options at every price range. The important thing is that you will want some help seeing a little further.

  3. Persistence! The most important thing a birder needs is to be persistent. Birds don’t always like to be seen, so be patient. If you don’t recognize what you are seeing, take careful notes, you will be amazed at what can be identified by the smallest features.

Birds are in trouble, and they need your help!

Unfortunately, the truth is that birds are in dire need of help. Because of their specialized nature, many birds are seeing food resources disappearing before their eyes. Since 1970 more than 3 billion birds have been lost in North America, roughly 50%.

But you can help! Becoming a Birder is more than just appreciation and understanding, it’s about action. There are tons of organizations working to tackle the problems these species face, and Interfaith Partners for the Chesapeake stands among them! 

So, how can we help?

We can create habitat and homes! 

Many of our bird species are in trouble because their preferred habitats have been dramatically reduced, changed, and altered by human activities. Planting native species is a perfect way to support many different species of birds, and is a longer-term solution than bird feeders. Whether planting meadow habitat, cultivating pollinator gardens, or revitalizing woodland, Interfaith Partners for the Chesapeake and our partners can help you make the right decision for your property. Additionally, putting up nesting boxes can be a fabulous way to attract charismatic species, like Eastern Bluebird, Purple Martin or Eastern Screech Owl, to your area. Many species are inhibited by a lack of "cavity" nesting sites, and need our help. For some ideas, check out our available resources on native plants.

Are you interested in pursuing conservation work geared towards birds? Please contact your local IPC staff member to learn more about what could be right for your congregation, home, and community! 

If you are interested in becoming a birder yourself, or have any questions about how to get started, please reach out to IPC’s Taylor Swanson at [email protected]. We hope to see you on the trails!!