When people hear the word birder, they might picture a floppy brimmed hat, khaki vest full of pockets, and expensive equipment. Some people believe birders have to be competitive, elite list keepers, but since birding is an activity that can bring so much joy and empowerment, we believe it’s time to rectify that misconception. Anyone who loves and appreciates birds can call themselves a birder—the more the merrier.
How to Go Birding
There are so many unique ways to enjoy birds. You do not need to own binoculars, know how to identify every bird species, or even be outside. In Madison Audubon’s work and collaborations with local partners, we’re committed to offering and expanding opportunities to
appreciate birds and nature together. We’re always eager to collaborate with local organizations to create new accessible outings.
Stay Close to Home
Our neighborhoods and yards are some of the first places we fall in love with nature and wildlife. Without doing any work at all, you’ll likely hear the chattery robin or see the bright-red flash of a cardinal from your doorstep. By planting native plants or putting up bird feeders (either less than 3 or more than 30 feet from windows) you can encourage all kinds of birds to visit. Bird feeders and plants can provide food and habitat year-round and can be enjoyed without having to leave the comfort of your home. There are even some types of bird feeders that record or stream video of your bird visitors right to your computer or phone.
Listen to the Music
Birdwatching and spotting birds using scopes or binoculars can be great, but listening to beautiful songs and calls is equally incredible. The low whistling sounds of a mourning dove flying away, the loud con-ga-REE of the red-winged blackbirds, and the unique drumming of woodpeckers allow us to identify birds that we are not able to see. Birding by ear, as it’s called, can be done anywhere and is a rewarding skill set that opens up the bird world. Madison Audubon partners with the Wisconsin Council of the Blind & Visually Impaired to offer a beginning course on the topic each spring. The course is open to participants who are blind, low vision, or sighted. By examining all the different kinds of sounds that birds can make, from songs to calls to even wing sounds, birders can familiarize themselves with their unique behaviors.
For some people, the idea of venturing out in nature alone might feel uncomfortable, intimidating, or even scary. There can be strength in numbers, so grab your friends for an adventure or join an organized event with a local bird and nature group that will support you, like Madison Audubon, the BIPOC Birding Club of Wisconsin, and the Feminist Bird Club-Madison Chapter.
Join a Birdie Sit
Having a comfortable and safe place to stay or sit for a while provides an opportunity to observe and be immersed in nature. While the number of bird species in one spot can be amazing, even more valuable is taking the time to learn and feel connected to individual birds, like hearing a Baltimore oriole call to a mate or watching a chickadee forage and bring food to young in a nest. Being able to focus on the environment around you, looking or listening deeply, is a great way for beginning birders to experience the habitats around them without having to worry about difficult trail conditions or other obstacles that can limit access for anyone with mobility challenges. Madison Audubon holds birdie sits, a great time to gather and meet other bird lovers while enjoying an easygoing outing, periodically throughout the year.
Bird From the Comfort of Your Couch
You can enjoy watching birds far away through livestream video of feeders, nests, and habitats in other places of the world (check out madisonaudubon.org/pond-cam). Did you know you can also go birding virtually? Using a computer or smartphone, you can join a bird outing live. Birdability, a national nonprofit organization that works to ensure that the outdoors are welcoming, safe, and accessible to all, partners with birders and clubs around the country to host sessions that are free and open to anyone who wants to join.
Increasing Access to Nature
For those who experience barriers to getting outdoors, it can be an additional barrier to figure out what places are suitable for them to visit. Enter Birdability. In addition to supporting current birders, the group seeks to introduce the wonders of birding to people with disabilities or other health concerns. Madison Audubon is proud to be a member of their founders circle.
Their Birdability Map provides a resource where people can leave detailed information and accessibility reviews of different natural places. In the Madison area, there are already over two dozen entries.
Access Ability Wisconsin (AAW) is another incredible organization who partners with Madison Audubon. They manage a set of all-terrain, outdoor wheelchairs in 13 counties (and growing) that are available for anyone to reserve and haul in AAW’s enclosed trailers to natural areas throughout the state and beyond. These awesome chairs provide independence to the user so they can safely travel over uneven, rocky, and muddy terrain to fully experience nature. At many Madison Audubon field trips and events, we work with AAW to have outdoor wheelchairs available for participants to request.
Learn More About Accessible Birding
The third week of October is Birdability Week, which spotlights the importance of eliminating barriers to the outdoors, especially in the birding community. From October 17 to 23, tune in to Birdability’s virtual programming and Madison Audubon’s local events that highlight the importance of access to nature. As a Wisconsin Birdability Captain, I am always happy to help anyone who has questions about accessibility to nature, the Birdability Map, and more.
Nature is for everybody, and Madison Audubon is passionate about sharing the joy of birds. We strive to foster a birding community that is inclusive and welcoming. In the next issue, we will share how you can get involved in bird conservation in 2023. Until then, happy adventuring!
Kaitlin Svabek is the communications specialist at Madison Audubon. Connect with the team at email@example.com or follow them on social media @madisonaudubon.