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Bird watching in Central Oregon

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One of the most welcoming signs of spring is the twitter of backyard birds. Their chipper calls are the alarm clock waking nature up from its long winter rest. Spring migrations mean many birds will become active April through June as they seek out mates, nest locations and new sources of food. Now that spring has come to the high desert, one great way to get out and enjoy the season is by going bird watching.

Bird watching is one of the fastest growing forms of recreation in the country, according to the 2012 National Survey on Recreation and the Environment. Why? It’s a great way to get outside and watch wildlife that’s relatively easy to find. What’s more, it is a low-cost form of recreation that’s fun and easy to start. So, how do you take on this new hobby?

Birding 101

If you have a pair of eyes, you can start bird watching right away. The next time you take a walk along the Deschutes River or sit in your yard, stop for a moment and examine the birds around you. You’ll notice there are obvious differences in size and shape. There are small brown birds that flit through the bushes, large woodpeckers making a racket on your house, or massive herons gliding slowly through the water.

You can judge size using birds you already know: bigger than a robin, smaller than a crow. Though this seems basic, size is one of the most important clues to identifying a bird. The body parts of birds—beaks, wings and tails—are also clues to what they eat, how they fly and where they live. Great blue herons have long skinny bills perfect for spearing fish, and their long legs help them wade quietly in the water. Northern flickers (likely the woodpecker banging on your house) have beaks that are perfect for making holes in wood or the ground to dig for ants and beetles.

Hummingbirds have tiny straw-like bills for sipping nectar from flowers.

From size and shape you can move on to color. Bright birds can make identification easier, but it is often the subtleties in color you need to search out. Are there colors and patterns on the head or tail? What do the wings look like? Finally, behavior and habitat can be important clues.

Where did you see the bird? How was it moving? Was it in a group or on its own? Though these last clues take time to learn to see, they can be the most fun as you begin to understand the habits and habitats of birds, and the stories they tell.

Undoubtedly, as you dig deeper into birding, you’ll want to get yourself a pair of binoculars. Binoculars come in a wide range of sizes and can be purchased at many local outdoor or bird specialty stores. They are essential for birding because they let you see the birds up close. One caution: take some time to get to know your binoculars before you go looking at birds! Though they are simple to operate, it takes practice to learn how to find and focus on an object with binoculars. Practice focusing on stationary objects—your fence, flowers, etc.—before you try to catch moving targets. Even better, join an introductory bird walk, which will certainly cover the basics of binoculars.

Some other helpful birding equipment include a good bird identification book or app (iBird Pro is my favorite), and a notebook to record your observations.

Where to bird

In the high desert, head toward water and you’ll find great bird watching. In Bend, you can find waterfowl and migrating songbirds at Sawyer Park on the Deschutes River. In Sisters, Camp Polk Meadow Preserve’s wetlands provide habitat year round and contribute to its designation as a birding hot spot (more than 160 species of birds observed). In Redmond, try Cline Falls State Park for canyon falcons and wrens. Wherever you go, the most important thing to remember is to enjoy yourself! You may not identify any birds or see anything unique, but you’ll have undoubtedly learned something about watching wildlife, and observation is the key to becoming a naturalist.

Looking for some practice in the field? If you’re in Central Oregon, check out the Land Trust’s guided Bird Walks!

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