At 12-years-old, I found my first love. A love as much handsome as intelligent…Birds. To them I would dedicate my career, working diligently in conservation research and education. Though not all my work as an ecologist has been bird-specific, it has all aimed to conserve the planet for birds and all of us who call earth home. And in each position, I have come face to face with birds, each more beautiful than the last.
Read on for the Top 5 Birds I’ve Seen While Working as an Ecologist!
Alaska 2019. A group of seven graduate students and one undergrad (the undergrad was me). We’ve just spent five days at an ornithology conference. I was exhausted from the constant influx of information from talks, not to mention all the networking. It was fun, but my introvert brain can only handle so much! Add to that the 4-hour nights and you have a recipe for exhaustion.
But we were only in Alaska for one more day…Off to Denali we went!
Once our hike was done, the park bus drove us down the mountain to our cars. Everyone fell asleep except for me. That’s when I saw it.
A Rock Ptarmigan.
I let out a cry. The graduate students leapt awake and pressed their faces to the window, but it was too late. Of all of us, I was the only one lucky enough to see one.
I can’t say that the Rock Ptarmigan is especially rare or sought-out, but it’s a bird I would never find in my homestate of Texas. And even though I didn’t see it in it’s dashing white breeding plumage, the mottled brown feathers carried a charm of their own. It remains one of my favorite birds I’ve seen.
Fairywrens (multiple species)
As someone who has lived in Florida, I thought I had a pretty good understanding of blue. What can be bluer than the ocean?
Well, if anything can compete with Florida’s natural beauty, it’s Australia. Fairywrens of all species boast dazzling blue plumage. Our team of ornithologists was halted in its tracks when we first came across the bird. Contrasting the brownish, dull green vegetation, these stunning blue birds sequestered our attention. Pictures don’t even begin to do these birds justice.
Fairywrens are perhaps the most beautiful bird I have ever seen. I hope you Australians realize how lucky you are!
(Yes, I saw this bird on the trip I got lost in the Australian outback).
The next bird on this list is also Australian. The Crested Bellbird. This species attracted my attention not so much for its plumage (unique and striking as it is!), but for its evocative call: A repeated note reminiscent of hand chimes that consistently threads through the Australian landscape.
Here’s a link to a recording of the Crested Bellbird (recorded by yours truly): Crested Bellbird recording.
I could say this for every bird on this list, but the American Woodcock is one of my favorite birds I’ve seen. Masters of camouflage, I never expected to actually see one. But one warm, Minessotan summer day, a fieldmate and I were walking through undisturbed forest. We were on a trail-camera upkeep mission: change batteries, switch memory cards, check for tampering, etc.
My fieldmate’s attention was on the handheld GPS unit in his hand. I followed behind, ducking out of the way of branches. Suddenly, he lets out a cry, taking several steps backward. My gaze jumps to the path in front of us. A snake? Venomous spider? I just manage to catch a glimpse of brown feathers darting away…could it be?
Taking the lead (my fieldmate was afraid of birds), I inched forward cautiously, hoping to spot the birds without scaring them away. And sure enough! Five woodcocks watched me from the leaves, completely still. If I hadn’t been looking for them, I wouldn’t have seen them at all!
My fieldmate and I continued on our quest. Both of our hearts were hammering, his from shock, mine with euphoria.
The Eurasian magpie is incredibly similar to its Pica (genus) counterparts in the US (also Africa and Asia). Each Pica species is not only striking for its beauty, but also its intelligence. Its relatives the crows are known for dropping acorns on roads and waiting for passing cars to crack them open!
I saw this bird on a trip to France with my dad. We spent most of our time in tourist attractions such as the Louvre and the Eiffel Tower, so there wasn’t much time for birding. Thus, the few birds I was able to enjoy on this trip are high on this list. And thankfully, Eurasian Magpies are anything but shy! (Think of sparrows in parking lots).
They are a bird surrounded by superstition: “One for sorrow, two for mirth, three for a funeral, and four for birth.” I assume I must have only seen magpies in pairs because nothing followed me from this trip aside from mirth.