Watching vs. Spotting Nature

Nature Watching
by Robert Krampf

I have been an avid bird watcher for many years. When I first got started, I spent most of my time bird spotting, trying to add more and more species to my life list. While it is fun to add a new species, there is much more to bird watching than just spotting them.

To see what the bird spotters are missing, you will need:

  • birdseed

OK, so you need to find a place to watch birds. Luckily that is pretty easy, because you can find birds just about everywhere. They live in cities, forests and deserts. You can find them in the Arctic and in the middle of the ocean. You can even find them in your back yard.

Now you could easily go out in the yard and sit there waiting for a bird to fly by, but we want the birds to stay for a while. If you have lots of plants, they will probably do just that, but you can encourage them by putting out some food. Don’t put out bread crumbs or crackers. They are not good for birds. Instead, put out some sunflower seeds, millet, or unsalted peanuts. Place the food where you will be able to see it from your window, and where the birds will be safe from neighborhood cats and other predators.

Then wait and watch. Depending on the area, it may take a few minutes or a few hours for birds to find the food, and feel comfortable enough to stop for a snack. If you continue putting out food, within a few days you should have some regular visitors.

Once the birds are feeding, watch them. You will find that some species tend to be very aggressive, trying to chase other birds away from the food. Other species tend to ignore the other birds, gladly sharing the feast. Notice that different birds prefer different kinds of food. Watch the way different birds eat. Some will grab seeds and fly away to eat or hide them, while others will sit and nibble until they are full. Some will be very flighty, zipping away at any movement, while others will tend to ignore you as long as you don’t get too close. Notice how their behavior and sounds change if a cat comes into the yard.

The more you watch them, the more you will learn about how they behave. You can practice your skill at observation by watching other animals too. If you have a flower garden, watch to see if different types of bees and butterflies like different colors and types of flowers. Watch ants as they search for food. Is there a pattern to the way that they search? If they find food, do they follow the same path back to their home?

Observation is an important skill in science, and the better you are at noticing details, the more you will learn about science and the world around you. For example, earlier today I observed that there was still some ice cream left in the freezer. As a good scientist, I really should check on it again, to be sure that it is still there.

Have a wonder-filled week.

Reprinted with permission. © 2008. Robert Krampf’s Science Education

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