How to Find Comfort in Watching for Boreal Birds

For Boreal conservation expert Jeff Wells, birds and nature are the calming salve that counters collective anxiety during the pandemic.

It is a major understatement to say that all of us in this world are immersed in trying times. Anxiety is at heightened levels as we struggle to stay safe and healthy while being responsible to the broader community in which we live. For some of us, connecting with birds and nature is like a calming salve that counters that collective anxiety and provides a distraction that reminds us that the natural cycles of the world continue to flourish.

One of the most obvious of those natural cycles is, of course, the spring migration of birds that is underway across our hemisphere. Birds that nest in the Boreal Forest region are among that sea of migrating birds moving north. Ducks like Green-winged Teal and Northern Pintail have begun arriving in the northern U.S. and southern Canada. A few tiny Ruby-crowned Kinglets have left their southeastern U.S. wintering grounds and made it as far north as Toronto, Ottawa, and Montreal. Northern Waterthrushes, on the other hand, are mostly still in Central American, northern South America and the Caribbean except for a few showing up along the Gulf Coast from Texas to Florida. Blackpoll Warblers are still in northern South America. And up in the Boreal Forest region itself, Willow Ptarmigan that had come south for the winter may be starting to move north again.

Getting to Know Boreal Birds Birds Near You
As so many of us find ourselves staying at or near home for an extended period, perhaps you can find comfort in watching for or learning about the birds migrating through this spring.  

  • Identifying birds: If you are just learning the birds you may want to use Audubon’s online bird guide or download the free Audubon bird guide app. If you can’t figure out what you are seeing and you need a little help then you could consider downloading the Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s Merlin bird id app.

  • Listening for birds: You can take it a step further and work on learning to identify birds by sound with this online course.

  • Photographing birds: If spending time quietly studying and photographing birds sounds more appealing and you need some ideas on how best to do that, here are some tips from the pros.

Contributing to Community Science
For those who already can identify the birds in your area, you may find some fulfillment in contributing your local sightings to the online eBird database  to track the movements of all those Boreal birds across the hemisphere. Perhaps consider doing several daily five- or ten-minute counts of all the birds you can identify from your window, backyard or nearby natural area (where you can stay safely separated from others). 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.

For those wanting to try something new, consider recording the songs and calls of birds in your backyard using your iPhone and then uploading them into natural sound recording archives through eBird (attaching the sound file to your checklist) or Xeno-Canto. 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.

As we all deal in our own ways with the difficulties and anxieties of this unprecedented global health crisis, may connecting with nature and birds give you strength and hope. But above all, take care of yourselves and your loved ones.