From Our President: The Mystery of Birding

Each fall, I anticipate the arrival of the first White-throated Sparrow at our feeder. We usually see only one or two individuals that stay from November to March or April. Then they leave, presumably to fly north to find breeding territory along the west coast or interior of Canada—or as the biologists say, to achieve their biological potential. When the sparrows arrive for the winter, I always wonder where they have been since last spring. Did they find a mate and adequate habitat to breed successfully? Why do we never see more of them? Are they the same birds that appeared last year at the feeder? Always mysteries without answers.

This one bird and the questions I have about it might seem insignificant, but think about its journey: It has traveled perhaps 1,000 miles each way, with just its small life force taking on all that it encounters. Each bird we see in our binoculars has such an adventure. Throughout its life it needs to find food, water, and shelter, evade predators and accidents, and stay warm or stay cool. It competes to find territory and a mate, breed, and feed and protect its young. Every day it is at risk of not succeeding. It has found its way back to a winter habitat where it can survive.

The White-throated Sparrow in my binoculars jumps up to the feeder and competes successfully with the juncos for the food there. In human terms, it looks brave and strong and confident. Biologists balk at attributing human characteristics to animals, but I take that zest for life, that sense of purpose and unwavering spirit of adventure to heart and give the little bird credit for making my day with its arrival. I find contentment, renewal, and excitement birdwatching through the kitchen window. People new to birding and those who have never developed a kinship with the outdoors might think birdwatching is just about looking at individual birds or trying to count the greatest number of birds or the greatest number of species. But it is all those things, and it is much more.