Thanks to the pandemic, Americans are rediscovering birds at time that birds need to be noticed more than ever.
Although a recent Audubon Society report shows that bird numbers have plummeted in North America over the last 50 years, millions of the feathered flyers are still migrating north to their seasonal breeding grounds.
America’s newest pastime: “Lockdown listing”
All these birds are still visible and active across the country, just as they’ve always been — but what has changed has been the slowing down of American society, with much of the country stuck at home with limited mobility due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Lockdown listing” has taken off, with friendly competitions going on to see who can detect and list the most birds species from their window or yard.
While “yard lists” are a long-time staple in the birding community, many newbies are now learning the pleasure of this pastime.
But birding is much more than just a way to pass the time.
It’s also good for the soul.
Birdwatching helps homebound and often desperate people reconnect with nature and remember that the world keeps going despite human concerns.
One suburban Chicago resident, Chuckie O’Neill, currently on furlough, took to watching sandhill cranes to fill the time.
“You can get a little anxiety watching the news,” he told the Chicago Tribune, “and if you turn the news off and look outside, everything’s still the same, you know? I guess it’s de-stressing.”
Sometimes, getting involved in birdwatching can sneak up on you, and quickly become an obsession.
One Stanford student transitioned from following his brother around on a Pokémon Go quest, to noticing that finding and listing birds was even more challenging and interesting than chasing pixels on a cellphone.
He suggested that the birding should be “game-ified” — but this has, in a sense, already happened.
Games and ‘citizen science’
Apps such as eBird and Merlin, both from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, make it far easier to identify and list birds than ever in the past.
Data that “citizen scientists” gather are invaluable for conservation, and millions upon millions of lists of birds are submitted every year.
And it’s not just Americans who’ve become so passionate about birds.
The biggest day in global birding, the World Migratory Bird Day — also known as the Global Big Day — happens every year on the second Saturday in May.
This year, that date is May 9, and it’s set to be a record-breaker.
Every year, more and more people worldwide watch birds and submit lists of what they’ve spotted, with competitions between regions and countries to see what percentage of the Earth’s total species can be detected.
Last year, this included over 50 percent of all bird species — and most of them were reported on the eBird app.
The birdwatching business is also booming: Along with all-time-high downloads of the Merlin and eBird apps, online stores are seeing an uptick in bird-related products such as bird feed, feeders and binoculars.
The threats birds face
Amidst all this new activity, advocates also want newly minted birdwatchers to know how they can help — or harm — their feathered friends.
Birds are threatened not merely by dramatic changes in the weather — springtime snowstorms, for example — but also by the way humans live in urban and suburban habitats.
House cats prey upon birds with gusto, and should be kept inside.
Window panes are collision hazards — bird lovers can use netting, or decals shaped like the shadow of hunting birds such as hawks, to reduce the risk of birds unknowingly flying into deceptively transparent glass.
Yard pesticides are also dangerous for birds, and light pollution can confuse and misdirect their migratory patterns.
With a little care and caution, bird lovers new and old can witness nature’s wonders, and do their part to help keep these natural systems healthy and thriving.