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Learn to Bird and Become a Conservation Hero

By Kimberly Rodgers and Abbi Maurer

April showers bring May flowers … and birds! It’s time to come out of your nest. With weather warming up, billions of birds will take flight to their summer homes where they will make their new nesting sites. On their journey, many birds will pass right through Atlanta’s backyard. This makes it a great time to get into birding, especially if you find yourself spending a bit more time in your house than usual! Getting started is easy, and there are many resources to help you become an avid birder.

Birding 101: Tips for a beginner

  • Always begin birding by stopping and listening. Often you will hear a bird before you see it. After a time, you may start recognizing all the different ear-pleasing bird calls.
  • Stay quiet and move slowly. This will increase your odds of seeing the birds. They startle easily and often perceive us as predators. Keeping quiet may also increase your chance of getting a National Geographic cover-worthy photo!
  • Dawn and dusk are the best times of day to get birding. Many species tend to be most active at these times! When you first start out, try birding at different times of the day. You may see different species throughout the day, as well as get an idea of different bird behaviors.
  • Use binoculars! Binoculars are probably the greatest tool for birders. You don’t have to buy an expensive pair. Even entry-level binoculars will help you get a closer look at faraway birds to observe some details.
  • Pay attention to the details! Learning the small differences between species will help you learn how to identify them. It helps to start with observing these bird aspects:
    • Color: Most birds have a specific dominant color or combination of colors.
    • Size and shape: Look for head shape, beak shape, and overall shape, and compare sizes.
    • Behavior: Are they social or solitary? Are they very active or do they stay perched? Noticing these behaviors can help with IDing.
    • Calls and songs: What sounds do the birds make? Different species have distinct calls.
  • Identify and use your resources. There are a lot of bird species, and learning about them can be overwhelming. Luckily, there are many online resources and field guides to help you get the most out of your newfound
    • eBird is an amazing online birding community and citizen scientist project that allows you to create your own profile, keep track of what birds you have seen, connect with others, and learn more about birds and birding! You can visit the website here or download the smartphone app.
    • Need help with identifying birds? The free Audubon Bird Guide App is an easy-to-use Bird ID feature that helps you figure out what bird you saw.

Birding and learning to ID birds can be great fun! It’s also important to know how you can help protect birds during their migration and at all other times during the year. Keep the following bird threats in mind and learn the easy ways you help keep birds safe:

  • Birds can confuse reflections of trees in windows as habitat for them to utilize. Find ways to break up reflections, by using things like bird deterrent tape, to reduce these accidents. It helps birds and can be a great way to add some flair to your home.
    • Check out Zoo Atlanta’s Scaly Slimy Spectacular, all decked out in stylish polka dots.
  • Turn off unneeded lights at night so nighttime migrating birds won’t get confused or lose their way. This is especially important during migration season. Some birds use the stars to navigate. Bright lights can distract the birds and get them off course.
  • Keep cats indoors. Even if a cat is well fed and taken care of, they will still instinctively hunt for prey.
  • Enhance boring lawns by planting native plants. Lawns are like vast deserts for animals like birds and butterflies. By switching some of that lawn to native flowers, trees and other plants, you provide habitat and resources for many species. This will help you with your birding hobby by bringing the birds to the yard. Check out: https://gnps.org/ to find some Georgia native plants for your yard.
  • Reduce your use of single-use plastics. Plastics pollute the ocean as well as other habitats, harming animals like birds.
    • Zoo Atlanta is doing its part to decrease its plastic use. We do not provide single-use straws at any of our retail eateries or use plastic bags in our gift shops.
  • Lack of knowledge or data. The more scientists can learn about bird locations, migration patterns, and behavior, the better they are able to protect them. By using eBird and other data sharing apps while birding, you can help contribute to the database.
    • There are yearly citizen science events that unite worldwide birders to collect bird data. Earlier this year, Zoo Atlanta hosted an event for the Great Backyard Bird Count. Join these events and help fill in the data gaps!
  • Support your local zoo. Zoos like Zoo Atlanta work hard to help the conservation efforts of all animals great and small. Follow us on social media on May 9 as we celebrate World Migratory Bird Day. We will have special at-home activities to help raise awareness about the threats birds face.

By keeping these things in mind, you can become a Birding Hero by helping birds today and every day so you can continue enjoying your newfound birding hobby for years to come!

Connect With Your Wild Side #onlyzooatl