Learning Through Birding

Monarch Butterfly, courtesy of Jaya Ramanathan.

Birding provides opportunities to hone our artistic and scientific skills. Learning the scientific connection between flora and fauna helps us create habitats that are critical for the survival of birds. Science also helps us understand the behavior of birds. Art inspired by nature exists historically and in modern times and enables sharing of nature experiences.

The Audubon Society and park organizations help us learn how to create a habitat for birds using native plants. We learn that Lantanas and Vitex attract not only birds like the Black-chinned and Ruby-throated Hummingbird but also pollinators such as the endangered Monarch butterflies, and these keep us company during the lull between the departure of fall migrants and the arrival of winter ones.

We learn about birds by just observing them or using information from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and Audubon Society. A Northern Mockingbird stands on one foot and made us worry it could be hurt until we find out it does so to conserve heat. A Ruby-throated Hummingbird’s red gorget becomes visible only when light falls on it at a certain angle. A Carolina Chickadee perches at our bath for almost half an hour, not taking a single sip, just mourning the fatal loss of a friend to a raptor, doing so multiple times, a day after we notice several feathers of the victim strewn in our backyard.

Northern Mockingbird, courtesy of Jaya Ramanathan.

Many birders take photos to identify birds using apps such as Merlin Bird ID. Birds fly away if we get too close to them, so a zoom lens works best as it allows us to keep a distance and still take sharp pictures. Butterflies on the other hand are unperturbed when we stand right next to them to take photos, but they constantly flutter so it is hard to get a sharp photo of many of them feasting simultaneously on a single plant. Birders also learn processing tools to crop photos to highlight key aspects and adjust for inadequate light. Action photography of birds requires patience, skill, and knowing the perfect time to take a photo such as Ospreys being more likely to catch a fish at low tide.

Osprey, courtesy of Sarita Yeola.

Birders combine their art and nature interests in surprising ways such as creating picturesque bird designs using Rangoli, an art form that uses colorful powders from various materials. Others write blogs that foster creative writing by challenging them to define a topic, and write about it concisely so the reader finds it both fun and interesting. I wonder what art genres other birders have explored.

Crimson-backed Sunbird, courtesy of Vidhya Sundar.

Numerous artists have been inspired by nature. Think of your favorite melodious music that sounds like bird calls, picturesque paintings of gardens and flowers, elegant dances choreographed to bird movements, spectacular photographs taken in various nature spots, vivid writing that conveys the beauty of nature using just words, sculptures, and petroglyphs. Such art inspires us to seek and enjoy experiences they depict, learn about their science, nurture and protect them, and even create our own art about them.

By Jaya Ramanathan. Reviewed by Sarita Yeola.