Is Bird Watching REALLY for the Birds?

Northern Utah is the birdwatcher’s paradise with millions of birds passing through semiannually.

American National Symbol Bald Eagle with Wings Spread on Sunny Day Isolated by Sky
BY HAILEY MINTON

I’ll admit it. I originally thought birding was the epitomizing hobby of lameness. However, after several years of disdain and a single day of giving it a chance, my opinion has shifted 180 degrees.

In 2017, I was living in Hawaii while my husband finished up school, and we drove past a bird refuge quite frequently. I love exploring, and I had driven past this place countless times. Each time, I wondered what I would find there. Eventually, we visited, and what I found, aside from birds, were enthused bird-loving folks who shared their passion with me.

A finger pointed to the sky and was followed by an exclamation of “a ruddy turnstone!” There were friendly people sharing their binoculars and scopes as we walked through the warm sunshine and a comfortable breeze. Everyone was captivated by each new species we encountered along our walk; I was mostly captivated by these birders’ enthusiasm.
I learned about the names, behaviors, and environments associated with the different birds. Their personalities were fun to watch, as some bobbed their heads up and down to each other. Others made amusing squeaky toy sounds, and some were just gorgeous to behold. It was also interesting to learn what species were vulnerable, why, and what is being done to make a difference.
At the end of the experience, I decided to volunteer once a week to help reestablish a bird colony at the refuge. It was through serving these baby chicks that I grew to love birds in general. The birds, on the other hand, hated us through the whole experience, which is good because, after they fledged, they stayed reliant on their instincts instead of humans.

The more I’ve learned about birds, the more I realize how awesome it is to be in Northern Utah. The Great Salt Lake is a rest and nest stop for millions of migrating birds on their way to their breeding grounds in the summer and their wintering grounds in the fall. It’s a critical link in the flyway between North and South America, with 3 to 6 million birds representing 250 species visiting and nesting annually.

We all know it’s important to “not waste a drop,” but here’s one more drop in the bucket for why we should conserve water. An increased water demand from the growing Utah population, drought, and a decrease in river flow is contributing less water and less habitat for these migrating birds, according to the Audubon Society. On audubon.org, you can look at how the water level of the Great Salt Lake has fluctuated from 1984 to 2018. Although it hasn’t reached its record low, there are a lot more exposed lakebed than what there used to be. Less habitat means less room for visiting birds to rest and feed.
I love being outside and it turns out, you will probably see birds whether you’re specifically looking for them or not. Are you taking a walk, mountain biking on a trail, relaxing at a lake, or having fun with any outdoor activity? You’ll probably encounter a few birds. Having background knowledge of what you’re seeing can add depth to your experience and really help you feel connected to nature. I’ll admit, it’s pretty cool to see a bird and know at least a few things about it. One of my favorite bird memories is when I saw a bald eagle dive down over the water at Pineview Reservoir in the winter and attempt to snatch a fish.

The Salt Lake Bird Festival

May is the month for prime time bird watching. The Salt Lake Bird Festival goes from Thursday May 14th to Sunday May 17th so visit www.daviscountyutah.gov/greatsaltlakebirdfest for the schedule of events. Tickets go on sale March 2, and each field trip has a limited number of tickets available. Some of the activities and events are free, others are not. You can go on an Owl Prowl on Antelope Island. Or you can look for golden eagles and pelicans out at the Spiral Jetty with the help of National Audubon’s Max Malmquist. There are handfuls of different activities happening each day of the festival, and there is something for everyone.

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Calling all artists!

Great Salt Lake Bird Festival 2020 Student Art Contest:

All Utah students in Pre-school or grades k-12 are invited to create original artwork of a Yellow-headed Black-bird on an 8 1/2 x 11 white paper or art board. Submissions are due May, 1 2020 by 4:30 p.m. For additional info visit www.daviscountyutah.gov/greatsaltlakebirdfest/student-art-contest

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