Our birding expert for the magazine, George Harrison, definitely knows his stuff. When I started working here about six years ago, my birding knowledge was less than impressive. George was eager to get his claws in me, and it didn’t take long for me to start picking up on his tips and tricks. Here are just a few of the things I’ve learned over the years. And now, thanks to George, I can name just about any bird I see (please don’t quiz me on the raptor or duck family, though).
SEXUAL DIMORPHISM. When George meets a newer birder, one of the first lessons he’ll give them is on sexual dimorphism. In a nutshell, sexual dimorphism is the physical differences of males and females within the same species. Cardinals, for example…male cardinals are bright red while females are brown with red accents. Many bird species, like cardinals, bluebirds and hummingbirds, do have sexual dimorphism while others have none (males and females of jays, chickadees and robins all look the same). So when you work with George, you learn which birds have sexual dimorphism and which do not.
HE VS. SHE. Related to sexual dimorphism, you don’t call a robin “he” just because. You can’t tell just by looking whether it’s a he or she, so don’t presume.
BILLS NOT BEAKS. Most birds have bills (no, this isn’t just a term for ducks). The only birds that have beaks are those that actually tear flesh like owls, hawks, etc. For all other birds, you should refer to their bill as…well, a bill.
ILLEGAL BIRD ACTIVITY. Keeping birds inside is illegal. I don’t know that the bird police is going to come and get you or anything. But for the purpose of respecting wildlife and rules of nature, it’s best to let nature take its course.
TIMING IS EVERYTHING. If you’ve ever tried to attract a specific bird (hummingbirds or orioles, for example), don’t give up. Timing can be everything. I tried to attract orioles for several years, and then one year, George told me the exact weekend to put out my oranges (he lives roughly 45 minutes from me and keeps a journal of when birds arrive in Southeastern Wisconsin). Low and behold, I had an oriole within days (eNature has a good spring migration guide based on regions).
THE ULTIMATE BIRDSEED. Black-oil sunflower seed always reigns supreme and attracts a wide variety of birds. If you have trouble with squirrels or bully birds eating all your seed, give safflower seed a try. They’ll usually leave it alone.
Here are a few books that George has written, available through our affiliate program on Amazon. Let me say that I have a copy of Birds Do It, Too. You’ll never look at birds the same.