Hunting with a bow requires a lot of patience. When we enter the woods, it may be hours, days, or even weeks, depending on what and where we are hunting, before we actually spot our quarry. It may be even longer than that before we get a shot. Many long hours are spent in a ground blind or tree stand sitting quietly, waiting, observing, and listening. We watch the sun come up and go down. We observe the leaves blowing in the wind and spiraling to the ground. We listen for the sound of footsteps approaching or the mating sounds of our quarry. Sometimes there are squirrels scurrying here or there, but most times it seems, there are no living objects in the woods besides you. Boredom spoils more hunting seasons than anything else; at least that’s what I hear from other hunters. They give up on hunting because they are tired of spending days in the woods without “seeing anything.”

It doesn’t have to be like that. Your hunt doesn’t have to be boring even if you are not finding the quarry you seek. Fortunately for us, nature, in her infinite wisdom, supplied those of us who spend a great deal of time outdoors with a beautiful gift. What I am talking about is as pretty as a great artist’s painting and as melodious as a fine concerto played by a symphony orchestra. I am talking about birds. Most likely you totally ignore them as they flit about from branch to branch, or hop around in the understory. It’s doubtful you pay much attention to their songs or calls (songs are usually long and complex while calls are usually short and simple) as you listen for the sound of deer approaching in the leaves, or elk bugling, or hogs grunting. If our feathered friends are just a bunch of “tweety birds” to you, as I have heard them described by other hunters, you are missing out on one of nature’s greatest gifts, visually and aurally. You are also missing out on a way to make each and every hunt more exciting, or at least much more interesting.

I became interested in birds as a child. My mother was a bird lover and used to point out different birds and teach me their names. Living in the city then, our bird sightings were pretty much limited to Cardinals, Robins, Chickadees, Blue Jays, Starlings, and Sparrows. She would occasionally buy me books with colorful drawings or photographs of birds. As a child I was amazed, almost mesmerized, by the amazing variety of colors, shapes, and sizes of the different birds displayed in those books. It was those books, more than anything else that gave me such a deep appreciation for nature. There are so many different birds, so many combinations of bright colors, each uniquely beautiful. Of course, most of the birds with the brightest plumage (as feathers are called) are the male of the species. The males’ bolder, brighter colors make it easier to attract females during the mating season. Since the females often are the ones that sit on the nest of eggs, they are often a more muted color, which is better for blending into the surroundings making them less visible to predators ensuring the
continuation of the species.

Here are some interesting facts about birds. Birds have been on earth for approximately one hundred sixty million years. There are nearly ten thousand species of birds around today. Most of the singing is done by the males. The smallest bird, the Bee Hummingbird, weighs a mere two grams and is two inches long, while the largest, the Ostrich, is over nine feet long and can weigh up to three hundred and fifty pounds. The Cedar Waxwing has no song, while the Brown Thrasher is reported to have up to two thousand songs in its repertoire. Some birds cannot fly at all, while the Peregrine Falcon can fly at over one hundred seventy five miles per hour. Some birds can even swim underwater.

It wasn’t until I started hunting that the world of birds really opened up to me. I can vividly remember the first time I skirted a marsh and was dive-bombed by a shrieking male Red-winged Blackbird. Although he was mostly black, he had the brightest red and yellow feathers on the top of his wings, and he was beautiful. Even now, some fifty years later, I can close my eyes and see those colors and hear the call he made as he attacked. Many of my most exciting hunts have involved spotting birds I had only seen in books. On my first Saskatchewan bear hunt, I was amazed at the size of the Ravens and all the sounds they can make. Listening to the Ravens made the wait on stand for my bear to come in much more enjoyable. On another black bear hunt, only this time in Manitoba, I was fortunate to spot a flock of bohemian waxwings. On yet another bear hunt to Saskatchewan I saw a great gray owl (one of the world’s largest owls standing nearly three feet tall and having a five-foot wingspan), a Yellowheaded Blackbird, Boreal Chickadees, and so many Ducks I couldn’t identify that I was drawing pictures on napkins so that I could look them up later to see what they were. I may have come home from those last two hunts without a bear, but I came home with some great memories nonetheless, thanks in part to my love of birds.

Deep in south Texas while javelina hunting, I saw multiple crested caracaras (often called Mexican Eagles), a Pyrrhuloxia, (resembles a Gray Cardinal with tinges of red), Road Runners, Green Jays, Scaled Quail, and White-winged Doves. While mountain lion hunting in Montana, I was amazed by the sheer number of Bald Eagles, a bird rarely seen around my home state. I also saw Magpies and Gray Jays (also called Camp Robber Jays). While elk hunting in Big Sky country, mountain Chickadees were very abundant, as were both Blue and Franklin Grouse. While Whitetail hunting in Wisconsin, I found myself in a little patch of woods surrounded by migrating Warblers of many different species. It was sensory overload trying to identify and remember which species I had seen so that I could call my wife Dianne (also a birder) later to excitedly tell her about it. I also saw my first whip-poor-will, a Scarlet Tanager, and saw and heard the haunting call of the common Loon on that hunt. I spotted Cormorants, Egrets, Bitterns, Pelicans, Osprey, and the rare Osceola Turkey while hunting hogs in Florida.

The fact that I can remember where I saw so many different birds only underscores the value they added to each hunt. As a matter of fact, along with our bows and arrows, we usually carry along a bird book and a small sack of seed on out-of-state trips to set up a bird feeder in camp just to see if we can lure in any species we haven’t previously seen. For the most part, as hunters, we tend to only pay attention to those species of birds that we can hunt, Turkeys, Pheasant, Grouse, Quail, and Ducks, but there is a lot more to be gained from birds than just putting one on the dinner plate.

You don’t have to go on exotic out-of-state hunts to see lots of birds because fortunately, they inhabit every forest, swamp, field, prairie, and woodlot in the country. While hunting in the small patch of woods behind my house in southwestern Ohio, I have seen hundreds of species of birds, including Wood Thrushes; Cedar Waxwings; Red bellied, Downy, Hairy and Pileated Woodpeckers (a stunning Crested Woodpecker as large as a Crow); Redtailed, Red shouldered, and Cooper’s Hawks; as well as Rufous-sided Towhees; White-breasted Nuthatches; Rose-breasted Grosbeaks; and Yellow-shafted Flickers. Sometimes spotting one of those species of birds was the highlight of that day’s hunt as the deer or turkeys were not cooperating.

You don’t have to be as enthusiastic as I am about birds to enjoy seeing and hearing them. If you will just start by learning to identify a few of the birds, plus their songs or calls, that are local to the area you hunt, I think you’ll increase the enjoyments of your hunts and relieve some of the boredom. I firmly believe spotting birds will also make you a better big game hunter. I have a saying: “see the birds, see the deer.” When you get to the point that you can spot and hone in on the small movements of the birds, spotting the small movements of deer—a tail wag, the swivel of an ear, or a nose raised upwards to test the wind currents—will become much easier. You’ll learn to become keenly aware of small movements in your peripheral vision and quickly zero in on what made the movement. This acquired skill works well with any big game animal you happen to be hunting.

Perhaps you have been trying to get your spouse to join you in the great outdoors, but they have an aversion to personally killing things. Try suggesting that they go along to bird watch and offer to get them a good pair of binoculars of at least 8X to 10X power of magnification, a comfortable folding chair, and a book on identifying birds. You may find a new partner willing to join you on trips afield. Books about birds are available to check out at your local library, can be purchased at bookstores or online. One of the better books we like is The Sibley Guide to Birds by David Sibley, however one of the Golden series of books called Birds of North America is a good book for someone just getting into birding. If you live near a Nature Center or bird supply store, they will undoubtedly have a large selection of books and CDs to choose from. The Thayer Birding Software’s Guide to Birds of North America CD has a ton of useful information on bird identification. In addition if you Google “Birds of [insert your state]” there will be many sites to aid you in identifying local birds. Another bonus is there is no “season” for bird watching. It is something that can be enjoyed year round. Put a feeder outside your windows and it can be enjoyed without leaving your house.

Observing nature’s beautiful gift of birds will, or can if you are willing, increase your enjoyment of the outdoors and inevitably make you a better, more aware hunter. Perhaps one evening upon returning home from a hunt, your spouse will ask if you saw anything and you’ll be able to say, “I saw that big ten-pointer again tonight but he was out of range, and I saw several does, but they came in downwind, caught my scent and spooked. I also had a couple of golden crowned kinglets in the tree next to me. They were only ten feet away. They are really cool … oh … and I heard a towhee but never saw him.”

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