I didn't start birding until I was in high school. I knew the basics before that: cardinal, robin, mourning dove. Bird was a noun, something that flew, not something to do.
I wasn't a birder.
When I'd started volunteering at the nature center, the staff (who later would become some of my closest friends) would point out different species to me with broad smiles and whispered, yet ecstatic, exclamations. I learned to appreciate the subtle beauty of warblers and spend hours deciding whether any of those little brown birds were something to sing about. I fell in love with a rose-breasted grosbeak. I learned to scan without ceasing, to notice when a little brown bird looked just a little different than the others, and to never call a gull a "seagull".
I've waited years for my kids to get bit by the birding bug. To breed some of these contagious bugs, we participated in the Great Backyard Bird Count this weekend. The GBBC is a simple birding start. You watch some birds. Then, you report what you've seen and where you saw it. We just watched the bird feeders around our house.
Tufted titmice, goldfinches, chickadees, and turkey vultures showed up in abundance. A few dark-eyed juncos ate the seed that had fallen on the ground.
My mom spotted two red shouldered hawks in the backyard. She saw one snatch a squirrel. I hope that in the spring they'll nest nearby, as they did a few years ago.
The kids never have offered much more than a casual, "huh cool" when Bubba and I breathlessly marvel at the rainbow of a male wood duck or the remarkable camouflage of a brown creeper. However, this weekend, they seemed enthusiastic about donning their binoculars, even if Gray's were backwards. Nora played song after song from our "Bird Songs Bible" book. She quizzed my mom and me and was baffled when we were stumped by the Hawaiian or western species.
I want to raise talented birders the way some people want to raise professional athletes. In the world of birding, I am not a very good birder. I'm horrible at calls, and I have to look at my Sibley's a million times before I know which warbler I am examining in my binocs. Besides a short, newlywed trip to Hawk Mountain with a couple friends, I've never traveled too far to bird.
But I can't stop birding. I hope my kids won't either.
While birding is a hobby on which you can spend bazillions of dollars on scopes, cameras, plane tickets, and hiking gear, it can also be a very cheap one as it only requires a pair of eyes. Whether you watch a backyard feeder or hike through a rainforest, I wish you happy birding.