One of the few memories I have of my grandmother involve birds. She loved watching birds, feeding them, and hearing their songs.
She painted them on a number of mediums, and I always remember her having different feeders around her house. After her death our family continued her love of bird watching.
Bird watching is something I enjoy doing and love sharing with others, so I was excited to be able to write this article and share my photographs that I have taken over the years. All of the birds that are featured in this article were photographed here in Randolph County and on Lake Wedowee.
Bird watching is an inexpensive, rewarding hobby and, next to gardening, the fastest growing hobby in America. With the increased interest in the eco-friendly movement, bird watching is a pastime that gets you in tune with nature and into the great outdoors. You don't even have to leave your home to enjoy birds. But, if your backyard does not have bird watching potential, we have three new additions to the Piedmont Plateau Birding Trail right here in Randolph County. Local bird watching areas now include Fox Creek on Lake Wedowee, Kiwanis Park in Wedowee, and at Southern Union Community College in Wadley.
I contacted Randolph County native Bailey McKay, Ph.D., to get some information about what types of birds to be on the lookout for in Randolph County. He got his passion for birding during class trips to Belize, Kenya, & Peru, to name a few. Bailey received his Ph.D. in Evolutionary Biology at the University of Minnesota, his master's in Evolutionary Biology at Auburn University, and his bachelor’s degree in Biology at Samford University. He is currently doing post-doctorial studies in ornithology at the American Museum of National History in New York City where he is particularly interested in Asian birds.
This photograph of Bailey McKay Ph.D.
wastaken off the coast
in Southern California.
Dr. McKay said there are an overwhelming amount of species that are known to be prominent here, with four different types of groups. Residents, the birds that are here year round; Summer Migrants, birds that migrate here during the summer months from the tropics; Winter Migrants, ducks and geese that migrate from the north during our winter months; and Migrants, those species that are just passing through, stopping to rest and feed.
A few of the species we talked about stuck out as the most interesting. One bird you may notice in your yard is the Brown Headed Cowbird. It is in the blackbird family and has an unusual “song.”
The cowbird sounds like dropping water or a series of low gurgles. They are a parasitic species that lay their eggs in other bird’s nests.
“The Brown-headed Cowbird got its name because it followed buffalo around to pick insects off,” Bailey said. “They have done damage to some species of birds because of their parasitic nature.”
Cowbird eggs hatch faster than other species eggs, giving cowbird nestlings a head start in getting food from the parents. Young cowbirds also develop at a faster pace than their nest mates, and they sometimes toss out eggs and young nestlings or smother them in the bottom of the nest.
Several of the other species we discussed are pictured in this article. One that is not pictured is the American Bald Eagle. Numerous people have seen it but had not gotten a photographs. I went out searching for Lake Wedowee’s eagles but did not have any luck. Another bird that I did look for specifically for this article was the Great Horned Owl. The owl is my favorite bird and while I have seen many in the wild I have never been able to capture one in a photograph until now. I set out on a mission and fortunately was able to capture this beautiful bird of prey.
If you are going to photograph birds you do not need special camera equipment, just a little patience.
“Having open feeders is a good way to attract many different birds,” McKay said, “Get a good seed that they will eat. Sunflower seeds are the best for attracting area birds.”
“Alabama has a lot of natural, unique areas. If you want to get the most out of Alabama, get out there and bird watch.”
Set up your feeders and look for some of the birds photographed here. Follow “Tips from an expert” I have created with advice from Dr. McKay on bird watching. If you snap some great shots email them to us at email@example.com, we would love to see them. We may use them in upcoming issues!
· “Make sure you have a good pair of binoculars. In order to identify a bird accurately you will need to be able to see it up close.”
· “Take note of the location that the bird is. If its on the ground or up in a tree that will help you identify them based on their activity.”
· “Get a good field guide. One that is hand drawn instead of having photographs is better. Artists can look at hundreds of photos of birds and create a sketch that is more accurate for the species” He suggested ‘The Sibley Guide to Birds of Northeastern American.’ “Getting a guide with your specific region will eliminate birds in other areas that you will never see.”
· “Determining what type of bill a bird has is key to identifying a species.”
· “Get out in the woods and forest areas, don’t wait for them to come to you.”