I have always been interested in birds, as long as I can remember anyway. But I wasn’t called a bird watcher when I was young. I was called that boy who is interested in birds. In that, when I was in school, I was a loner. No other student in my class, or in the other classes in my grade school, said they were interested in birds.
Roger Tory Peterson’s book, “A Field Guide to the Birds,” was published a few years before I was born but I didn’t get a copy until I was in fifth or sixth grade. I learned the names of birds from Mother and Dad and a grandfather. They weren’t bird watchers but they knew the names of the common birds. But I learned the names of most birds from a book the size of one volume of an encyclopedia, “Birds of North America,” which had beautiful color pictures. I didn’t carry that book when I went out. I looked at the pictures when I got home after a day of roaming.
As for equipment, Grampa had a pair of field glasses and a cheap telescope he called a spyglass. He let me take both when I went out to look for birds.
I was given a copy of “Peterson’s Field Guide” when I was still a boy. Then I got a copy of “The Audubon Field Guide.” Now I have the latest editions of both of those plus bird guides by National Geographic, Kenn Kaufman, Robbins, Bruun and Zim, Donald and Lillian Stokes, and David Sibley. I also have many other books about birds but not just for identification.
I have grown from that boy who was interested in birds to a bird watcher when somebody coined that term and now I’m a birder. I acquired a pair of six-power binoculars during World War II and gave up Grampa’s three- or four-power field glasses. Now I use a pair of ten-power binoculars.
As a boy I was given National Geographic magazine because it occasionally had stories about birds with color photographs by Arthur A. Allen. I was also given a subscription to Audubon magazine which was mostly about birds. There were no other national magazines that had stories about birds. Now there are Bird Watcher’s Digest, The Living Bird (put out by the Cornell University Laboratory of Ornithology), WildBird, and Birder’s World. I get them all.
Now there are birding hot spots, places large numbers of birds or rare birds may be seen. Many states have birding trails and give out maps showing places to stop to see birds with descriptions of some of the birds to be seen at each stop. There are Birding Festivals with programs about birds and birding. The latest issues of birding magazines advertise several this month and next month. There are tours for bird watchers. There are Bed and Breakfasts that advertise good birding.
I have lived during this tremendous growth in the popularity of bird watching. I am no longer a loner interested in birds. I am one of millions. We are recognized, not by gender, tennis shoes, broad brimmed hats and field glasses, but by binoculars and spotting scopes and field guides to birds. We are everywhere there are or might be birds, particularly large numbers of birds or rare birds.