Picture a birder—aka someone who’s into the hobby of birding—and you probably imagine a gray-haired figure clad in cargo shorts, a pocketed vest and Tilley hat. While that image may be historically true, these days a birder is just as likely to be an Instagramming, skinny-jeans-wearing millennial.
“It’s legit like real life Pokémon Go,” says avid birder Nathan Johnson, 27, a computer support technician by day. “We’re not sitting in bushes being very patient. It’s kind of the opposite. One minute someone can text out an alert about a rare bird, and the next minute you can have 10 birders chasing to go get this new bird they’ve never seen before. It can be very exciting.
“It is just as much of a sport as fishing or hunting—like hunting without the bloodshed.”
Johnson joins a growing number of millennials discovering that the hobby can be, as one avid birder put it, “very freeing.” They’re turning to birding in part to disconnect from technology, particularly their phones, and reconnect with nature. And, no matter what age a birder is, Western New York—with its ample waterways, wooded areas and proximity to Lake Erie, all birding hot spots—is the perfect place to get in on the action.
“It’s neat to spend time in nature seeing real, living things in our community and neighborhood,” says Brad Loliger. The 31-year-old attorney got into this hobby after attending an introduction to birding class through the Buffalo Audubon Society. He sees it as one way to combat the control technology has over our lives.
“Our phones are built to distract us, to suck our attention, to get that rush of dopamine when we get an alert. I’ve been trying to actively fight that, and one way is leaving my phone at home and going out and listening to the birds and hearing their calls. It provides a sense of calming to me.”
And yet, that same technology birders say they’re escaping is also enabling them to gather information, record sightings and connect like never before.
Interest in birding has increased in recent years, based on the growth of online resources and forums on the subject, said David Suggs, president of the Buffalo Ornithological Society (BOS), which currently has about 220 members. Buffalo-Niagara Birding, an active local Facebook group, has 2,228 members. They share photographs, ask questions and comment on the birds around them.
One popular app, eBird, is essentially a robust database that uses Google maps and hot spots for birders to record what they find and more easily track birds they’re looking for. Along with apps, social media has also allowed birders to enjoy unprecedented connectivity. eBird user Joseph Fell, a high school conservation teacher, has been birding in Western New York for about a decade. He leads guided walks through the BOS, where he is also the membership chair. Like Johnson, he also sees birdwatching as a game of sorts, and enjoys not only the serendipity of it but also the way it grounds him.
“You are into what you’re doing,” he explains. “You’re not thinking, ‘I have to stop at the grocery store or take the clothes out of the dryer.’ To really be engaged, you have to be focused on what you’re doing.”
But what’s so great about birding in Western New York, in particular? Our region has close to 300 species of birds. It’s a hot spot for migration—and one of the better areas in the world for warbler migration. Plus, there are a large variety of gulls and waterfowl here, too.
A few popular places locally for beginner birdwatchers to check out include Tifft Nature Preserve, Forest Lawn Cemetery and Reinstein Woods Nature Preserve. The best part? You just never know what you might find.
As Loliger said, “We live our lives going from work to home, home to work, but who knows where the birds have flown or where they might be going next?”
Birding spots for beginners
Tifft Nature Preserve
1200 Fuhrmann Blvd., Buffalo
Home to 265 bird species, this 264-acre preserve includes five miles of trails through marsh and forest—and was named an “Important Bird Area” by the National Audubon Society.
Forest Lawn Cemetery
1411 Delaware Ave., Buffalo
The 269-acre expanse featuring ponds, waterways and wooded areas is a popular, beautiful location to spot a variety of birds—and many warblers can be found here during the fall season.
Reinstein Woods Nature Preserve
93 Honorine Drive, Depew
Well-groomed and marked trails in this 292-acre forested complex featuring wetlands and ponds makes it an excellent place to spot all kinds of wildlife, including many species of birds.
Story topics: Wellness