Support Local Journalism


Remember when we had never heard the term, “social distancing?” That was just last week. Wow.

It turns out a lot of us have practiced social distancing for a long time. We’re called introverts. But that’s another story. Under the current definition, according to Johns Hopkins University: “Social distancing is a public health practice that aims to prevent sick people from coming in close contact with healthy people.”

By now, we’ve probably all figured out how to do social distancing. I’ve been surprised to realize how many social activities I have in my life now that they’re all gone. These include going out to eat, field trips with Audubon, teaching classes at the Foothills Learning Center, taking Osher classes at Boise State University, going to parties, seeing live bands, seeing my grandkids, seeing my kids, and visiting my favorite brewery. Heck, I now even miss going to the grocery store. Who ever thought of that as a social activity?

Birding, the act of going outside to find and identify birds, is the perfect socially distanced activity. In some ways, birding has always been best done alone. Most birds are sensitive to our movements and the noise we make. When you’re alone, you’re almost guaranteed to see more birds, see them for longer, and see them more closely.

When birding alone, the bonus is you’re also quieter. Unless you talk to yourself (and we might all be doing more of that if this keeps up), you will be walking quietly through the neighborhood, on the trail, through the park, or across the countryside. And even if you’re with your partner, you’ve probably run out of things to talk about by now. It’ll be a nice quiet walk either way.

Birding is also perfect for social distancing because it gets you out of the house and into the fresh air. Fresh air is probably good for the body. I know it’s good for the soul. If you go out more than you did before, however much that is, you also have opportunities to take those paths not taken. Why hurry home to a house that smells like Lysol?

You can also parlay online shopping into birding. Have you already purchased all the hand sanitizer, toilet paper and rice you can use over the next 50 years? How about buying some birding stuff?

Bird books. You can’t imagine how many bird books are out there. My favorite guide for identification is the “National Geographic Field Guide to the Birds of North America.” Other great guides come from David Allen Sibley and Roger Tory Peterson.

Did you have to postpone a trip to another state or country? Order a book on the birds of that place, whether it’s Missouri or India, and study up for when you actually get to take that trip.

Studying birds is better than watching endless reruns of TV shows that weren’t that good in the first place. Once you arrive at your new destination, you’ll be a natural at wandering down the trail with confidence.

How about birding clothes? You could just wear something from your closet, but what fun is that? Research has shown birds don’t like bright colors and move away from people dressed in yellow, white and red. How about a lovely tan shirt, tan pants, a tan vest, and tan boots? Spice it up with a tan hat.

There must be a hundred kinds of camo out there. Stick with the subdued color combinations. Forget hunter orange. Deer are color blind. Birds aren’t. Some birds can even see colors we can’t, such as ultraviolet. Leave your UV bling with your stash of bottled water.

Binoculars are essential tools for most birders. But don’t buy them online unless you are buying the very best and you know what you’re doing. Less expensive binoculars should be held and looked through before you buy. I’ll write much more on binoculars soon.

If you like to draw, observe birds and try to draw them. The human body is supposed to be the most difficult thing to draw. But based on a lot of bird art I’ve seen, birds are no picnic.

Getting their postures just right is apparently pretty tricky. But you’ll be good at it.

Finally, I’ll give you one more thing to do on your phone — eBird. eBird was created as a global database for storing bird sighting data. It’s been a spectacular success. I eBird almost every day and especially enjoy submitting a bird list from some spot where no one else has ever been. There are plenty of these spots around the Treasure Valley and across the Great Basin.

That’s what I call social distance.

eBird does not ask you to be an expert. eBird asks you to do the best you can. If you submit something outlandish, say a Greater Flamingo from Lake Lowell, you will get a very polite email from the eBird checkers saying essentially, “You are a wonderful human being, you are a credit to Idaho, we love you very much, but … about your flamingo ….” Believe me, I know.

Sports fans who are missing the competition, box scores and stats can compete on eBird. There are a lot of lists where you can try to be No. 1 — most lists submitted by year, state and country; most species seen by year, state and country; most bird photos submitted; most bird songs recorded — and so on. It will take a while to get to the top of any of these lists, but who knows how long this social distancing will go on? And, yes, there is a World Series of Birding you can prepare for.

Even if they turn us loose on each other again pretty soon, and I hope they will, you might grow to like a little social distance in your new tan outfit. You might even be mistaken for an experienced birder. You should practice the birder greeting: “See anything unusual?”

Keeping a respectful distance is normal for birders. You’ll like it out there.

Terry worked for the Bureau of Land Management for 20 years and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for 15 years. He coordinated the international bird conservation partnership, Partners in Flight, from 2000 to 2014 and is an honorary life-time member of the American Ornithological Society. He and his wife, kids and grandkids all live in the Treasure Valley.

Load comments