A red-winged blackbird sings.

A red-winged blackbird sings.

Photo by Donna Agusti

Families flock to the great outdoors to bird watch

By: Mary Beth Almond | C&G Newspapers | Published April 3, 2019

 Members of the Oakland Audubon Society look for an owl they spotted in a tree.

Members of the Oakland Audubon Society look for an owl they spotted in a tree.

Photo by Donna Agusti

METRO DETROIT — Bird-watching, local experts say, is not just for the birds.

It’s a great excuse to get everyone spending quality time together outside — away from the temptation of screens — and cultivating an interest in science and nature.

“The most important ingredient in the whole thing is an interest,” said Don Burlett, the president of the Oakland Audubon Society. “Birding is just a gateway to getting outside and looking at nature in general. And birds are very fascinating creatures — with all the different colors and the fact that they flit around, and they come and disappear throughout the seasons — so it makes them a very interesting group of animals to watch.”

Bird-watching also requires very little financial investment. With just a pair of binoculars, a field guide, a pen and a little patience, the entire family can set off on an adventure together.

The best place to start is in your own backyard — by installing a bird feeder.

Huron-Clinton Metroparks East District Interpretive Supervisor Julie Champion said bird feeders, whether homemade or purchased, allow families to regularly see their feathered friends up close.

“It’s a quick way to start learning right out your back window,” she said. “You can get elaborate and buy some, or you can make some as a family project using recyclables.”

As interest in bird-watching grows, families can begin exploring local trails and parks or even find a bird walk to attend. Many local bird clubs, nature centers and parks offer regular walks.

The Oakland Audubon Society has the Young Birders Club, which aims to teach people ages 8-18 and their families the importance of bird life and nature in the community through programs and outdoor experiences, according to organizers.

“It’s a matter of stumbling upon that one bird that just absolutely fascinates them,” Burlett said. “Like the first time somebody sees a bluebird in the sun, when the sun is glowing, or the first time they see a hummingbird sitting at a feeder right in front of them — that’s what we’re looking for, something that will inspire them to really want to do more birding and get outside and enjoy nature.”

To keep kids interested, Burlett suggests keeping a count of the birds they see.

“Early on in kids’ lives, they really do enjoy having checklists and keeping track of how many species they’ve seen. That’s always a driver,” he said.

According to the Michigan Bird Records Committee, Michigan is home to 450 species of birds.

“I’ve seen 344 in the state, but on an average basis, that’s not what you are going to see,” said Burlett. “If you come along on most of our society’s field trips, you will definitely see somewhere between 200 and 225 species in a year.”

As birding skills progress, Champion said, families can help scientists keep track of trends in bird counts and movements. For example, the Cornell Lab of Ornithology holds bird counts several times a year that allow backyard birders to report their findings at allaboutbirds.org. Champion said families can also head to journey north.org to track migrations and report sightings.

“It’s a way to work toward citizen science. ... You feel like you are part of that whole community of helping people study about birds and learn about birds and populations,” she said.

Although there is never really a bad time to go birding, local experts say the early bird tends to get the worm.

“The most activity for birds, during any season, is in the morning,” Champion said.

Some seasons are also better than others.

“We are about to embark upon the best two months of the year: spring migration, where it seems like all the species are passing through in two months, April and May,” Burlett said.

The Oakland Audubon Society will celebrate spring migration season with its “Birding on the Clinton River Trail” event 8:30-11:30 a.m. May 4. The event is free and open to the public. Guests will meet at the Clinton River Watershed Council office parking lot, 1115 Avon Road in Rochester Hills, and hike along the trail to see some birds. For more information, visit OaklandAudubon.org.

In celebration of International Migratory Bird Day, Huron-Clinton Metroparks is hosting an event called “Bird Migration Day – Beginning Birding for Kids” at 9:30 a.m. May 11 at the Lake St. Clair Nature Center. Champion invites families to hike along the nature trails, learn how to use binoculars and discover what to look for when identifying birds.

After the hike, participants will stop and watch a state-licensed bird bander catch, band and release songbirds. Families will also plant a seed and make a bird feeder to take home. The event, which is open to people of all ages, costs $4 per child. To pre-register, call (586) 463-4332.

To find your local Audubon Society, visit www.audubon.org or call the Michigan Audubon Society at (517) 580-7364.