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Habitats Matter

Birds are everywhere and are more diverse within a habitat than you might imagine. Still, to maximize a list nothing beats visiting diverse habitats.

I have a friend who has a “25-Species Rule” for his bird trips. He threatens the building of debris huts in order to remain in the field if necessary. The truth is that all that is usually required when the list comes up a bit short is to pay more attention while passing through a different habitat, even if that simply means counting on those pesky urban birds like pigeons and starlings.

There is a reason that the World Series of Birding all-state teams have larger lists than the limited geographic area teams. A patient, deep dive can squeeze out a remarkable number of species, but a fast, wide scouring of multiple habitats will almost always yield a better result. Nature is filled with specialists. Some of the niches are quite small, which makes finding the inhabitants a matter of getting to the specific, unique location.

One inadvertent side effect of listing can be disparaging common birds. I can’t begin to count the number of times I was finalizing a day trip list and wondered why it was missing Chickadees or Titmice since I surely had heard them along the way. The curse of being common meant that I looked right past them to the allegedly more interesting species. You would think that I would have learned my lesson after finishing the World Series of Birding without Carolina Chickadee on our team’s list only to have our driver tell us that there was one singing while we were looking for a Kentucky Warbler.

On the other hand, there is a great gift in learning to value every species. The sort of observation required to maximize a list total will cause you to notice subtle differences. When you do that you can’t help but marvel at the complex web of diversity around us. The promise that the next nook or cranny may hold a new discovery is a great motivator to remain on the search. When we approach life with this attitude we can learn to seek diversity and enjoy the expansive possibilities. We might even begin to expect to be surprised.

Prayer: Wild Goose Spirit, entice us into the chase where we learn to expect the unexpected and celebrate diversity. Amen.


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