A Bird’s Tale

Quarantined with Nature

Wed, 03/11/2020 - 10:00am

Like seemingly everyone else, we find ourselves thinking about the implications of staying closer to home out of concerns about the coronavirus. We’ve heard stories of people being quarantined in city apartments in China, in small staterooms on cruise ships, on military bases, and in hospitals. Hopefully most of us will not have to endure that level of isolation. But if you do find yourself staying at home for an extended period (hopefully by choice and not necessity) and looking for things to do there, we share with you here some ideas we discussed for ourselves.

Since spring is well underway, step outside (or even watch your feeders from inside), tally up the birds you see or hear over a set time period (maybe 5 or 10 minutes), and submit your list to eBird. You might even try doing it multiple times over the day to see how the species and numbers change. All the while you’ll be contributing helpful information that scientists can use to study how bird migration progresses. Studying the birds in your own backyard in detail on a daily basis will almost certainly provide a fresh new perspective on what birds are in your neighborhood and how they change as spring progresses.

Begin a biological inventory of the plants, insects, and other living things in your backyard. It may seem overwhelming to imagine trying to identify all those trees, bushes, bugs, worms, and whatever else may live in and around your yard. It might be, if you didn’t have iNaturalist at your fingertips. By taking a photo (even with an iPhone) of whatever it is you are trying to identify and loading it into iNaturalist, you will usually find the answer to what it is. Sometimes the computer algorithm makes the best guess; other times it’s the community of experts that are part of the iNaturalist community that provide you with the knowledge you seek. Either way you will feel like an explorer learning about worlds that have been hidden in plain sight in your backyard. You can also put in old photos of interesting plants and creatures if you have the date and location where they were taken.

Sign up for and learn about upcoming community science projects that you can participate in like National Audubon’s Climate Watch and the Maine Bird Atlas. In fact, some birds are already starting to establish territories, and a few are already incubating eggs (bald eagles, great horned owls) so it’s not too early to begin noting observations for the atlas. You can submit records for the atlas through the Maine Breeding Bird Atlas portal of eBird.

Try your hand at recording the songs and calls of birds in your backyard using your iPhone, then upload them into natural sound recording archives through eBird (attaching the sound file to your checklist) or Xeno-Canto. We use an app called AudioCopy to record the sounds on our iPhones. The Cornell Lab of Ornithology has a free sound analysis program called Raven Lite that you can use to visualize a spectrogram of your recording to learn more about bird sound.

Whatever you do to pass the time, we hope you all stay safe and healthy!

Jeffrey V. Wells, Ph.D., is a Fellow of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and Vice President of Boreal Conservation for National Audubon. Dr. Wells is one of the nation's leading bird experts and conservation biologists and author of the “Birder’s Conservation Handbook.” His grandfather, the late John Chase, was a columnist for the Boothbay Register for many years. Allison Childs Wells, formerly of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, is a senior director at the Natural Resources Council of Maine, a nonprofit membership organization working statewide to protect the nature of Maine. Both are widely published natural history writers and are the authors of the popular book, “Maine’s Favorite Birds” (Tilbury House) and “Birds of Aruba, Bonaire, and Curaçao: A Site and Field Guide,” (Cornell University Press).