Birding with Bad Eyesight

By Devon Cattell

Since I turned 40 I’ve found that my eyesight is going downhill fast; a real drag for even just a backyard birder. I tried to make it a bit easier to see my neighborhood birds by putting birdfeeders in the trees (to give the birds cover from the hawks) right near my windows. It also provides live TV for my indoor cats.

I prefer the smaller birds (I’ve always felt sorry for the underdogs) so I put up those feeders that have a cage around them so only the smaller birds can fit in and they are protected by the cage while they eat.  My visitors include Titmice, Chickadees, House Finches, and an occasional Wren tit and a White Breasted Nuthatch. OK, the squirrels come too, but rather than fight them, I just put enough food up for both them and the birds; I’ve had some beautiful big orange squirrels this year that I think are Fox Squirrels.

Anyhow, The LBB’s (little brown birds) are hard to see, especially when I take my glasses off. They’ve given me a good example of how bird behavior can help in identification though. If a LBB comes to the feeder, quickly grabs a seed and takes off, it’s a Titmouse. If a LBB tries a seed, throws it at the window, tries another seed, decides it’s ok and then flies off, it’s a Chickadee. If a group of LLB’s come to the feeder, make a social event of it, talk loud enough to wake the dead (I don’t care if they do call them song birds, they sound like a bunch of squawking gossips to me), take some seed and fight over it even though there’s plenty to go around, they’re house finches. They usually have a game of "King on the way-cool perch" while the smarter ones just get seed from another perch and take off.

Another way to recognize birds is to pay attention to the sound of the speech of the usual visitors and listen for something different. I’ve tried reading about bird song and even listened to cd’s, but I find listening to the birds you recognize and trying to remember their song is the best way for me.  The coolest are the perky little Chickadees who really do sing “chick-a-dee-dee-dee” (some omit the last dee, probably due to a personality disorder like early hatching anxiety). As I mentioned, the finches seem to be the loudest, with the possible exception of the Scrub Jays and the Steller’s Jays. Once you screen out the usual culprits it’s easy to hear the unusual calls. When you hear one of them, put on your glasses and look quickly. You’re in for a treat.

My next attempt to thwart my eyes’ decline is to get a digital camera and use it for bird watching. These seem to be better than binoculars because they appear to work with less light (not to mention giving you a printed copy of what you saw in case you can’t identify it). I’ll write more if I find this really works.

Sequoia Needles
Bulletin of the Sequoia Audubon Society
Vol. 52, # 5

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