2015-04-30 / Nature

It's a Good Time for Bird Watching

By Jack Kelly


A Great Egret displays its nuptial plumes. (Photo by Jack Kelly) A Great Egret displays its nuptial plumes. (Photo by Jack Kelly) Bird watching, or birding as it is known by participants, is quickly becoming one of the leading outdoor activities in the United States. It is estimated that 40 million Americans take part in some form of avian observation. Birders contribute approximately $100 billion to the economy annually through travel, equipment, rentals, and other items, translating into about $12 billion in revenue.

Birding is more than a passing interest in birds, it is a profound appreciation for the aesthetic beauty of avian life, coupled with the intellectual curiosity of their identification, behaviors and habitats. This active pastime combines scientific discovery, adventure and athleticism. The rewards of a simple walk may be the discovery of a before- unseen behavior or a rare migrant to our island.

Many people who observe birds began by placing a few bird feeders on their property, and watching the species that visited, before graduating to field trips or casual walks through habitats. Most beginning birders find that they learn a great deal when they go into the field with more experienced observers, whether in small parties at local refuges and sanctuaries, or on larger planned trips to other parts of the state.


Jack Kelly, a native Newporter, is a wildlife photographer and nature enthusiast who enjoys sharing his experiences with others. Jack Kelly, a native Newporter, is a wildlife photographer and nature enthusiast who enjoys sharing his experiences with others. Aquidneck Island’s diverse habitats allow for viewing countless species of wading birds, songbirds, shorebirds, seabirds, waterfowl, and raptors during various seasons. Our proximity to the Atlantic Flyway will soon offer a plethora of migratory neotropical birds that will display a kaleidoscope of colors as they wing their way north. Newport’s Miantonomi Park is considered one of the top locations in southern New England to watch the passage of colorful warbler species and other songbird migrants throughout the month of May.

Time of day, weather, and clothing play a role in everything birders consider when planning an excursion. Many birds are particularly active in the early morning hours and can be viewed as they forage. A number of species travel by night and put down in early morning hours to feed and rest for the next leg of their journey. There is usually another period of activity late in the day after the heat of the day has passed. Weather plays a significant part in the travels of all avian sojourners, and an awareness of local weather patterns is a must. Favorable southerly winds are crucial for most migrants as this aids in the long flights north. Storm fronts will occasionally stop migratory flocks and give birders a unique opportunity to observe their quarry for extended periods of time.

Patience, stealth and silence are also key ingredients to a successful day of viewing. As a general rule, birds do not like sudden movements or loud noises and will flush to avoid them. It is necessary to keep talking and movements to a minimum. Experienced birders avoid shuffling their feet in leaves or breaking branches along trails, and keep as quiet and still as possible. Respecting the boundaries of wildlife allows for optimum observation without causing stress to the animals being watched.

The Norman Bird Sanctuary is offering free guided bird walks on Sunday, May 10, and Sunday, May 24, with Jay Manning, a member of the board of directors and longtime birder. Interested parties should meet in the sanctuary parking lot at 8 a. m. Walkers should bring their own binoculars and wear comfortable, sensible shoes for trail trekking. For more information visit normanbirdsanctuary.org or call 401-846-2577. For information on Audubon Society of Rhode Island programs and trips, or for the latest sightings visit asri.org or call 401-949-5454.

Important springtime notes: Before trimming or clearing shrubs, bushes and trees from your property, check to ensure that early nesting birds such as robins, sparrows and finches have not made a home in the vegetation.

Poison awareness: There have been a number of accidental poison related raptor deaths across the region recently. Many owls and hawks feed on mice and other rodents and are susceptible to poisoning by eating poisoned rodents that have not yet succumbed. During the spring season the raptors carry food back to the nest to feed their young. Consider using traps instead of poison for rodent control.

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