Bird Watcher's General Store

“A Cape Cod Destination Icon For 40 Years”

Start A Bird List for the New Year

Dear Bird Folks,

My 2011 New Year’s resolution is to start a bird list. Any advice?

– Ned, Mashpee, MA


It’s easy, Ned,

The best way to create a bird list is get yourself a pad of paper and when you see a bird, write it down. Then, when you see a different bird, grab that same pad of paper and repeat step one. That’s all. See? I told you it was easy. What else do you want to talk about? We’d better think of something or this is going to be a very short column. I know. What did you get for Christmas? Anything good? I’ll bet you can’t top what I got. My wife gave me (and I’m not kidding) a laundry bag. A laundry bag? What’s the point of that? Isn’t that what the floor is for? My wife is probably still mad at me from last year when I gave her a frying pan. How was I supposed to know she already had one? She was much happier this Christmas when I gave her a new paint scraper. It’s a beauty.

Even though your question didn’t require a very long answer, Ned, I like your idea of including birds in your New Year’s resolution. Why not? Bird resolutions are a lot less stressful to keep than the ones we make for ourselves. Besides, no one ever does any of those things they say they are going to do – such as lose weight, exercise more or put their dirty clothes into a laundry bag. With that in mind, here are a few goals that backyard bird watchers might want to accomplish in 2011.

The first one is simple. Identify one new bird eating from your feeder this year. That’s all; just find one new feeder bird in all of 2011. I’m suggesting this because I’ve noticed that many people simply have no idea what species of birds are eating their expensive birdseed. Every day I ask folks if they are getting a lot of birds. They usually say, “tons.” When I ask them to name a few of these birds their faces become blank, like escapees from Madame Tussauds. After a few moments of deep thought, they finally say, “I get the regular birds.” Swell. Judging from the hood of my car, being “regular” is not a problem for birds. I’d bet most people would be surprised by the number of different birds that come to their feeders, if they only paid a little attention.

Go for bird walk, in a new location. The Cape has hundreds of beaches and nature trails to explore. This year, get out your map, or your copy of Birding Cape Cod, and find a new place to walk and explore. The key words here are “walk” and “explore.” It doesn’t count if you drive to beautiful spot, sit in the car with the engine running and read the paper. Just yesterday I took a wrong turn and ended up at the old Air Force base in Truro (now owned by the National Park Service). I had never been there before so I got out and walked around. In addition to seeing a lot of creepy old buildings, I got a good look at the famous Jenny Lind Tower and a came upon a huge flock of beautiful Snow Buntings. It was all very serendipitous. (Too bad I can’t remember how to find my way back there.)

Cape Cod is undoubtedly a great place to see birds, but there are other places in the world to see birds, too. This year you should plan a day of birding while you are on vacation. Instead of spending everyday frying on some tropical beach or playing yet another stinky round of golf, take a walk to see the local birds. Cardinals and chickadees are fine, but perhaps now would be a good time to see a few of the world’s 10,000 other species of birds. Just remember to pack your bird books and binoculars. And if for some reason there aren’t birds to look at, you can always use your binoculars to check out people frying on the beach.

The next suggestion is something I nag about all the time, but maybe 2011 will be the year we’ll all start keeping our feeders clean. And believe it or not, keeping a feeder clean is not that hard at all. All you have to do is stop topping off your feeders. That’s it. Never, ever, ever, ever put fresh birdseed in a feeder that still has some old seed in it. Last week a guy brought in a feeder, complaining that the birds had stopped using it and he didn’t know why. I knew why. The food was wet, moldy and disgusting. If this were Arkansas, the officials would be blaming his feeder for all of those birds that dropped from the sky. Please put keeping your feeders clean at the top of your resolution list, or move to Arkansas.

Your idea about starting a bird list is a good one, Ned. Many hardcore birders are obsessed with obtaining a large life list, but that seems too corporate to me. They have complicated computer programs and intricate notebooks. Birding should be fun and not filled with paperwork. But sometimes keeping a simple list of new birds is just the motivation we need to go outside and do more birding. In fact, going outside more often is just what I tell my wife. There’s nothing like day of sunshine, fresh air and paint scraping. Can’t beat it.