When to go
The peak time to bird-watch in most of America is sunrise in early May, during the height of the spring migration. But this is not the best time to learn. Sorting through dozens of species—singing and bickering over food or territory, hidden high in a lush canopy of leaves—will just frustrate you.
The best time to start birding is during the winter, when the leaves are gone, the food is lower to the ground and only a few select species are still around. Get to know the juncos, chickadees, cardinals and jays. Learn to recognize them the way you might a new friend, through how they look, their mannerisms and what they like to do.
where to go
Expert birders all agree that it’s best to start birding close to home. “I encourage people to find a local patch, whether that be their own backyard or a neighborhood park that they’re already familiar with,” Ms. Merker said.
Once you can identify a few birds, consider joining a birding group for a walk. Participating in the Christmas Bird Count locally is a fun, timely option. While it’s serious business for some (the results are used by scientists to track nationwide trends), all abilities are welcome and there are always participants willing to teach newcomers.
If you’d rather learn on your own, find a nearby trail where you think there might be a lot of food for birds. Paths around wetlands, streams and lakes are a good start, Ms Merker said. Areas with berry bushes or forests with lots of decaying logs are also smart bets. Birds are generally most active around dawn or dusk, but if you look closely, you can spot some any time of day.
Tammah Watts has developed a very sharp eye in the years since she spotted that warbler out her window. She has gone bird-watching in Cuba, spotted eagles high in the Colorado Rockies and seen tufted puffins in Oregon, at one of the few places on Earth they come to shore. But after that first magical spring, she never saw another bright yellow warbler in her backyard.
“For me, they have brought healing through the way they are,” she said, adding that birds can be funny, quarrelsome, serene and profoundly human. Watching birds “really invites us to experience the natural world in special ways. They’re like, to me, little winged gifts.”
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