The Basics of Birding
Springtime in New Hampshire is the time for it
New Hampshire residents don’t have to travel far to get a taste of the beautiful wildlife our state has to offer. With more than 300 species of wild birds calling the Granite State their home, it’s no wonder the birding community here is alive and well.
New Hampshire Audubon has 10 chapters and four visitor centers (Concord, Manchester, Auburn and Hebron) that continually provide our communities with educational programs for adults and children. That includes numerous resources for the birding community, such as the Christmas Bird Count and the Backyard Winter Bird Survey, both of which depend on data from the birding community.
Involvement in birding can be as casual or serious as the individual likes, and so much can be learned by observing birds in their natural habitat or the ones we enhance for them through the use of feeders and houses in our back yards.
Taken from the birding pages of the New Hampshire Audubon site: “There are more than 50 million birders in the United States, and countless others who are interested in birds. Birds are beautiful, interesting and the most visible form of wildlife in the state. They capture our attention and fascination through their behavior, flight, song or simple presence on a cold winter day when it seems that nothing else is alive.”
The purple finch took out the one-time-sturdy New Hampshire hen to become the Granite State’s official bird, by vote of the 1957 Legislature. It was signed into law on April 25 by then-Governor Lane Dwinell of Lebanon.
A field guide that concentrates on birds in our corner of the country, the “Peterson Field Guide to Birds of Eastern and Central North America” ($16.04, paperback)
“Birdwatching in New Hampshire” by Eric A. Masterson ($17.79) is a comprehensive guide to birdwatching for backyard enthusiasts and experts alike. This book includes more than 120 great birding sites across the state.
The Vanguard Endeavor ED Binocular 8×42 ($254.99) is rated one of the best moderately priced binoculars, featuring water- and fog-proof lenses and 42-mm objective lenses.
While not an essential for birding, the right feeder can attract a good deal of attention for the backyard enthusiast. The Brome 1024 Squirrel Buster Plus Wild Bird Feeder ($85.49) promises to keep the squirrels out while holding three quarts of bird seed and attracting a variety of perching birds, including cardinals.
Expert Advice With Rebecca Suomala
Suomala has been a biologist at the McLane Audubon Center of Concord for 26 years. She has been an avid birder for more than 30 years and also enjoys gardening.
Would you say the birding community has grown over the years?
Oh, definitely it has grown. Birding as a hobby has grown in general, and there is a definite increase in birding here in New Hampshire. This reflects a trend that is happening throughout the country. Some people like to track what they find, but it varies a lot. Folks can record what they observe online at eBird (http://ebird.org), Of course, not everyone does that. Some people just enjoy watching and being outside, but if you choose to delve into it you can really learn a lot.
Do you think there is a type of person who is likely to become a birder?
It’s all kinds of people, but those who like wildlife in general and who love the outdoors and seeing wildlife. Birds are everywhere and easier to see than any other wild animal — even just looking out your window. And they are beautiful and have beautiful songs, and their flight attracts people to watching. With birders there is a wide range of participation, from just watching out your window to intensive study. And there’s lots of opportunity to explore. There are chapters in NH Audubon that offer field trips regularly. Some of them are beginning birding walks and traveling to particular areas to observe birds.
What sorts of bird species are people finding locally?
Are certain species being seen more of and others in decline? With more than 300 species in NH, there are a lot to track and there are a lot that people do report on. It’s that data that we can look at to see which species are being seen in the state. There are other volunteer surveys conducted by a central place (such as the breeding bird survey and Christmas Bird Count) that compile the data, and the NH Audubon looks at trends of resident birds (ones who stay year-round). There are some increasing and decreasing, and others staying the same and some we just don’t know enough about. As far as those increasing in general, the typically southern birds are being seen farther north, such as red-bellied woodpeckers and Carolina reds, which can be in part due to many different factors including changes in habitat, more birdfeeders up north and climate change. It’s hard to determine any one specific cause for these increases and declines. There’s a whole species that have declined such as the grassland species and aerial insectivores (birds that catch insects in flight), which include swifts and swallows. In some cases there are birds that simply leave our state in the fall and return to breed in the spring, but some of them are actually in decline.
Is there any special equipment or gear one would need to get started in birding?
All you really need is a pair of binoculars and a field guide. There’s a real wide range of binoculars, so it’s worth checking them out ahead of time before you buy. You might find a great expensive pair, but are they lightweight enough to carry around for hours? If they’re too heavy, you won’t want to carry them around. How they fit the eyes and hands are really important and whether you are able to hold them steady. Generally, quality is reflected in the price. The more expensive ones will give you a sharper image, clearer with more light. For a first field guide I’d suggest the “Peterson Field Guide to Birds East of Eastern and Central North America” and “A Checklist of the Birds of New Hampshire.” They’re both available from NH Audubon and you’ll see a number of other birding resources on this page.