In March 2020, barely into the throes of the pandemic, Nick Lund (my favorite bird writer) wrote an article for Slate titled, “You Have No Choice but to Become a Backyard Birder.” Though perhaps a little threatening, he was right. I had already loved birds and had taken bird walks around campus just to identify house finches and robins with my binoculars. But being stuck at home for five months made birding one of my most prominent passions. Birding at the marsh in my Indiana hometown, after all, was the only activity that was not cancelled. This is the story of birds I’ve met in the past year and a half, and the peace they continue to give me.
Photo 1: Summer 2020, Indiana: A red-winged blackbird calls on top of a sign demarcating the continental divide between the Great Lakes watershed and the Mississippi watershed. Though RWBBs are common (and loud!), they always take my breath away when they flap their wings and show off their striking blood orange epaulets against their inky feathers. I’ve often found it difficult to snap clear pictures of red-winged blackbirds because my camera always interprets them as negative space. Sitting on the sign underneath the clear blue sky, however, this little blackbird was veritably glowing.
Photo 2: Spring 2020, Indiana: A gosling stands among its siblings, all resting in the evening after a long day at the pond. It’s golden hour, and the twinkle in the little gosling’s eye reflects the gleam of the end of the day. Canada geese get a bad rap for their hostility against humans, but I’ve always found them endearing for being so protective around their young. This particular gosling barely had its adult feathers coming in. On my way out of the marsh, I had to stop and wait for ten minutes as the goose family proudly marched across the main path.
Photo 3: Summer 2021, Swarthmore: A robin stares directly into the lens as I capture it preening. I took this photo this past summer while going on a bird walk around campus. Because summer is a plentiful season and there are fewer humans around on campus, Swarthmore becomes a veritable treasure trove of birds. I caught this robin sitting on the fence of the Our Food garden, feathers disheveled into a ball of fuzz. He flew off shortly thereafter, but not before I took another minute to admire his volume of fluff.
Photo 4: Summer 2021, Swarthmore: A gray catbird perched on the edge of an urn in Wharton Courtyard. It had rained the day I snapped this photo, and though his head was a little blurry, my camera managed to capture the sleekness of his still-wet feathers. Gray catbirds are some of my favorite backyard birds — their even slate gray is adorable, they have sweet little faces, and when calling they sound exactly like cats. Ever think you heard a stray cat screaming around campus? Think again! It was probably one of our lovely long-tailed friends.
Photo 5: Winter 2021, Ann Arbor: A flock of trumpeter swans sits on an ice shelf on the banks of the Huron River. I took this photo while on my gap semester in Michigan on an unfathomably cold day in January. I wended the trails of the park feeling like my feet were going to fall off from the cold when I stumbled upon this group of fowl in the sunset. They were my first “real” swans — swans endemic to North America, rather than the invasive (but elegant) mute swan. I had never really understood the hype for swans before, but after watching the glimmer of the current, the sparkle of the crackling ice, and the halo of warmth around the swans, I began to understand. They looked to me like angels, able to thrive even in such a vicious freeze.
Birding should belong to everyone. A piece of advice I give to everyone is to take a few minutes to learn their backyard birds and their calls. Borrow a pair of binoculars from Cornell and walk around for a bit, taking a moment to appreciate the birds in your life, their calls, and their flight patterns. Seeing a robin thick into the chase, a cardinal calling to its mate, or a goldfinch balancing on a coneflower may just brighten your day.