The Art Of Birding
Birding is a recreational activity that involves listening, and seeing. This activity gives an observer information concerning the environment, its habitats and other elements. Remember when traditional African meteorologists used to observe birds to predict weather? The same applies here, except that it now has scientific backing. Birders are not necessarily conservationists and vice versa, they are simply passionate individuals who find birds and their ecological niches interesting. It is also done as a profession by experts known as ornithologists.
As a conservationist, I have come to learn that birds are important in very many ways. They can be used as indicator species; because they provide clues on environmental change e.g. the crows which are well known to be invasive species indicate the presence of food waste. The presence of a certain bird species can tell a lot about an area. When migratory birds get late to arrive at wintering or breeding grounds this can indicate climate change or variation. Some birds indicate the health of an ecosystem, just like some species of butterflies. Wildlife, just like humans, prefers a serene environment free from disturbances and threats. Birds in particular tend to stay in neither a habitat that has been destroyed by humans nor one that renders them vulnerable to predation. Ornithologists are most likely to record a reduction in birds’ numbers and species variety when grasslands or forests are cleared.
The composition of birds varies from region to region. Many factors affect this trend, including habitat, food, climate and ecological factors like competition and predation. However, some species occupy varied habitats because of their ability to withstand different environmental conditions. You are most likely to find water birds in coastal habitats, rivers and other wetlands. This is because of their dependence on water for food such as fish, tadpoles and flies and nesting.
One Saturday morning, I accompanied a group of passionate birders on a bird walk and to my amazement we came across some species that I assumed only existed at the coast. These species were there because a water body was created for them, in form of a sewerage treatment plant. I learnt that birding is best done in the morning when the birds are actively foraging. When silence is maintained and through camouflage, birds feel less threatened and come out in numbers. It is also a good time to master their calls because every bird has a unique call. It is fascinating to see or hear birders describing a bird. They make sure to use all the traits on the bird to help in identification. When describing a bird, I have found myself indicating the particular body part by pointing at a colleague or by using myself as a model. This simply means that bird anatomy is like any other vertebrate, except for the part where they are covered in feathers. They have one pair of limbs covered in scutes or feathers and a beak which is often referred to as a bill. When describing their wings, one is most likely to use their hands with the tip of the wings being represented by fingers.
When identifying a species, male birds are mostly used because in many species, they have distinct colour characteristics unlike female birds. Male birders take pride in this fact assuming it is the same in humans. Is it?