Birding at home is officially a thing and there has never been a better time to become a birder

By Angela Heathcote March 17, 2020
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Australians have been advised to stay at home once again and backyard birding may just be the answer to your boredom.

DUE TO THE continuing COVID-19 pandemic, Australians are being asked to once again stay at home in an effort to stop the new and highly contagious Delta strain, which appears to spread through the community with the vigour of a bushfire through tinder-dry bushland.

When choosing to stay home and opt out of social gatherings it’s easy to become bored very quickly. And for those who enjoy the outdoors, say bushwalking and birdwatching, it’s even harder to find activities around the house. 

But fear not, #BirdingatHome, which trended on Twitter mid last year during the height of the pandemic, is still a thing and is an absolute delight in these deeply troubling times. Forced to cancel all her birdwatching tours at the time, Australian birder Carol Probets encouraged people to share their backyard bird sightings using the hashtag #BirdingatHome.

“I was heartened to see the hashtag #StayHome trending. People had started isolating themselves anyway and I believe if enough people do this it can make a difference,” Carol said.

“I’ve always made a point of limiting my use of twitter to bird, nature and science content. It struck me that I can be part of the staying home trend by encouraging birding at home, which isn’t a new concept at all but it fits the situation perfectly.”

So what can you possibly see from your kitchen window? Well, a lot actually. Unlike many cities around the world, Australia’s capital cities are blessed with an abundance of colourful, interesting birds to watch, from your sulphur-crested cockatoo to the regal-looking crimson rosella and of course, the ubiquitous and ever-endearing pink-and-grey galah. 

Since the hashtag began trending, backyard birders have shared their sightings of eastern spinebills, yellow-tailed black cockatoos, tawny frogmouths, king parrots and many more. 

“Birding is not something you go and do for an hour and then stop. Once you’re a birder, you’re noticing birds all the time,” said Carol, who has some top tips for birding at home.

“Listening is a very important part of birding, so try to become familiar with the various calls of the common birds in your area. If you hear something different, it will be worth investigating.

“Learn to recognise the alarm calls of your common birds. If the cockatoos or Noisy Miners suddenly all go crazy, drop what you’re doing, go outside and scan the sky – there may be a bird of prey around.

“Keep a list and a chart to mark off the birds you see each day, each week or month. Over time you’ll notice patterns – which birds are around all the time, which ones are only around at certain times of year, which ones are just occasional visitors.”

A field guide to Aussie birds is handy too.

In response to the hashtag, BirdLife Australia is compiling resources to assist those who wish to bird from home, as well as encouraging people to enter their sightings into their Birdata and Aussie Bird Count apps. 

“If people are going out and doing these activities we will get more data to work out a strategy for recovering Australia’s bird population,” BirdLife Australia’s Sean Dooley said. 

“It’s a win for people and a win for the science of bird conservation.”

Related: Feathered geniuses: birds are much smarter than we think

Social distancing is also a chance to observe more diligently the birdlife in your backyard. If you see an urban bird, such as a brush turkey, cockatoo or ibis doing something peculiar, it’s always a good idea to log it through the Wingtags app here.

It’s possible, now that you have the opportunity to observe your backyard birds more closely and for a longer period of time, you’ll be in for some surprises. Ornithologist and bird cognition expert Gisela Kaplan explains some interesting bird behaviours here.

In Gisela’s opinion, magpies and tawny frogmouths are by far the most interesting birds to watch. She goes deeper into the behaviours of tawny frogmouths, including how to know when they’re mourning, here, and magpies and their tendency to ‘hold court’ here.

You can access our guides to urban birdwatching here.