Birding Basics

Do you want to learn about birds but don’t know where to start? Do you often see or hear birds but don’t know how to identify them? Are you looking for a safe, different outdoor activity?

More than just pretty animals, birds are an important part of the ecological system, including the Ogeechee River basin. Various species inhabit different layers of the food web — from birds that eat seeds and insects to the most expert hunting predators. They keep populations in check. They also help spread seeds and pollen which is vital for plant growth. Maintaining a healthy environment for birds to thrive is crucial to the balance of ecosystems locally and globally.

Red-shouldered hawk. Photo by Chris S. Wood, Macauley Library

What is “birding”? 

Birding is the act of birdwatching for either recreational, research or citizen science reporting purposes. Also known as ‘birdwatching,’ it’s the observation of birds in their natural habitats as a hobby or an amateur activity.

Wood Storks. Photo by Mary Ellen Urbanski. Harris Neck National Wildlife Refuge

I see birds all the time, but I don’t know what I’m looking at. 

Learn what to look or listen for when birding starting with color, shape, flight pattern, body size, bill or beak shape, calls and more. 

Check out these sites for bird guides. 

Cornell Lab of Ornithology

Birdwatcher’s Digest

Rare birds in our watershed

Northern parula on red twig. Photo by Dan Fein.

I’m enjoying this. How can I get better?

Consider purchasing a pair of binoculars (aka “bins”) and searching out local birding trails or sites. You might also join a local chapter of the Audubon Society, an organization dedicated to protecting birds and sharing resources for enthusiasts.

Audubon Society

Ogeechee Audubon Society

Coastal Georgia Audubon Society

Georgia Audubon Society

Birding trails in Georgia

Always follow the American Birding Association Code of Birding Ethics

American Goldfinch. Photo by Adam Jackson, Macauley Library.

I want to share some of the amazing things I’ve seen. Is there a way to do that?

Engage in citizen science. Download the eBird app for free. It’s a digital way to keep track of the birds you see or hear while birding. This type of citizen science reporting — the collection of scientific data by amateur scientists — benefits the people participating as well as researchers.

Read about Isaiah Scott, birding enthusiast and local student

Adult male Barn Owl. Photo by Shlomo Neuman, Audubon Photography Awards

ORK Birding Activity

  • Plan a birding trip in your backyard or neighborhood park, near a waterway or in a city greenspace.
  • Download eBird and record what you see/hear. If you aren’t sure how to ID a certain bird, you can search through the Cornell Lab of Ornithology website by characteristics. 
  • Share your checklists with Ogeechee Riverkeeper through eBird by searching “Ogeechee Riverkeeper” or via ORK’s eBird profile

You may also share your findings and photos through email at info@ogeecheeriverkeeper.org.

Tag us on social media with your research adventures and use #ORKOutside.


Additional Resources:

This activity is compatible with Project Wild “Bird Song Survey” activity which is geared towards middle and high school students in science and environmental education. Birding in general can be a fun family/friends outing for all ages, abilities, and environments. 


 

Isaiah Scott

Isaiah Scott can’t pinpoint exactly when he first became enamored with nature. He grew up in the Savannah area and spent plenty of time outside and playing in the backyard. Like most kids, he was really into nature books, especially ones about dinosaurs. But he does recall when he first became interested in birds.

The family was taking his older brother to visit Cornell and Scott saw a brochure for their Lab of Ornithology. He insisted they visit and it was transformative for him. “I got my first pair of binoculars from their gift shop. I had the best time birding that day.” He was 13. Now with a successful bird art business and sponsored deals, he’s set to head off to Cornell himself in the fall.

 

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“Birding helped me find my identity,” Scott says. “I found a fiery passion.” Yet Scott was keenly aware that he wasn’t your typical birder – he was barely in high school and he was a young Black man. “At first, it didn’t feel normal for Black youth, but then I realized it made me feel unique and I wanted to be a leader in the field. And when I learned about Dr. J. Drew Lanham, that inspired me to keep going.” 

Scott found a community of birders online and connected with enthusiasts from around the world. They traded photos of rare birds and tips for finding unusual species. They also created a network of support and encouraged one another. If Scott started out with the sense he was alone in his interest, those days are over. “The outdoors belong to everyone,” he says. “There’s a whole movement and I’m almost overwhelmed.”

He has also turned his love of birds into a bit of a cottage industry. A self-taught artist, he paints realistic images onto leather bags and notecard sets. He even sold one to his hero Dr. Lanham. “I was just drawing in class one day and a teacher said I should try a wood duck. That was when people saw what I could do.”

 

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Scott is the 2021 recipient of the Eckelberry Fellowship from Drexel University, a project fund that will allow him to further research the Gullah-Geechee connection to the land. His aim is to publish a birding field guide using Gullah-Geechee language, terms, and knowledge. He cites the example of the bobolinks which would stop to feed on plantations, being known as ‘rice birds’ to the enslaved people. “I also want to visit Barbados and track the movement of the enslaved people and see how they connected nature in these areas.” The grant will be administered by Ogeechee Aubudon

As he gets ready to head up to Ithaca, he’s decided to major in environment and sustainability. It’s my lifestyle and I always have the mindset to conserve and protect the environment.” And, of course, he’ll spend plenty of time at the Ornithology lab.


This is the third in a series of posts about Black environmentalists. Read the stories of  the Colonel Charles Young, Gullah-Geechee Heritage Corridor, and Dr. Sue Ebanks.

Fauna: Passerina ciris

Painted Bunting by Dan Pancamo

PAINTED BUNTING
Passerina ciris

The brightly colored bird is a member of the cardinal family and lives in the southeast and south-central United States, including coastal Georgia. Females and immature males are a parrot green color. At about two years old, the male’s feathers turn multiple tones of red, indigo, yellow, and more.

Color engraving by R. Havell, after drawing by John J. Audubon – Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington

They breed in maritime hammocks, scrubland, briar patches, woodland edges and swampy thickets. The females typically lay 3-4 eggs, twice a year. The fledglings take just a couple of weeks to leave the nest after hatching. The population is estimated at about 4.5 million, but that number is decreasing.

Painted Bunting (Female) by Dan Pancamo

The painted bunting was originally described by Carl Linnaeus in his eighteenth-century work Systema Naturae. The Swedish naturalist did a taxonomy of plants in 1753 and followed up with animals in 1758 and 1759.

Cover of Systema Naturae, 10th edition

Painted buntings are territorial and can be seen throughout the Ogeechee River watershed and nearby areas like Harris Neck Wildlife Refuge.

Listen to the call of the Painted bunting.