Taken from the birding adventures of professional wildlife biologist and photographer Budd Titlow, Bird Brains (Lyons Press, 2013), looks at the antics, behaviors and funny idiosyncrasies of wild birds. Each entry is another tale pulled from hours of birdwatching, where the personality of the various species of birds are on full display. In this excerpt, taken from the introduction, Titlow experiences a frenzied moment of convergent nature, all instigated by the antics of some wild birds.
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Birding Adventures Can Happen Without Warning
My newfound expertise to hear, listen to, and identify wild birds any time I’m outdoors — no matter the time of day or the season of the year — allowed me to finally fully understand the widespread allure of bird-watching or, as it’s known to the purists, simply “birding.” According to US Fish and Wildlife Service, there are currently more than fifty-one million birders in the United States alone, and this number continues to grow annually.
To me now, birds are nature’s great communicators. They always let me know when they’re around — by both sight and sound. And they provide a window to the natural world, giving me open looks into the wide variety of natural habitats they call home.
This point was vividly driven home to me during a trip to Fort De Soto Park in Pinellas County (near St. Petersburg), Florida. Late one afternoon, I was standing near the end of the park’s long fishing pier. I was photographing brown pelicans, terns, and gulls placidly diving for fish in the aquamarine waters of the Gulf of Mexico when suddenly the birds all swooped together over the water in one huge flock and started going berserk — shrieking and wildly flailing their wings while they tumbled and collided with one another in a frenzied state unlike anything I had ever seen. When I looked into the water beneath the birds, I saw the reason for their wild antics. Millions of fingerling fish shimmered like glass shards across every square inch of the water’s surface. The birds were going crazy competing for them. Plus just below the fingerlings, thousands of larger fish flashed silver as they boiled up to the surface and gorged themselves full of the minnows. Meanwhile, all fifty or so people fishing from the pier started catching fish as fast as they could cast their lines out — reeling in three and four fish they called “jacks” at a time. It was nature in the raw — a classic oceanic feeding frenzy, complete with a human element. And it was the birds that first alerted me to everything else that was going on below the surface of the water.
In my forty-plus years as a professional wildlife biologist, I’ve watched birds do some pretty extraordinary and, in some cases, just plain wacky things. I’ve seen sage grouse strutting like pimps in a parking lot high in the Colorado Rockies, marsh wrens merrily celebrating the onset of spring in Massachusetts, blue-footed boobies diving like blazing skyrockets in the Galapagos Islands, and a great blue heron subduing and swallowing a monstrous water snake in Florida. These observations — plus many others — provided the impetus and idea for creating this book — one hundred of my most memorable birding moments. These were the times when I most vividly saw inside the minds of our feathered friends.
More from Bird Brains:
Birdwatching: Northern Cardinals
Birdwatching: Sage Grouse
Birdwatching: Trumpeter Swans
Excerpted with permission from Bird Brains: Inside the Strange Minds of Our Fine Feathered Friends, by Budd Titlow, published by Lyons Press © 2012. Buy this book from our store: Bird Brains.