It’s safe to say not all birds fly south for the winter.
And not all people stay indoors during the snowy weather — just ask Bill Mees, avid birder, or bird-watcher, and chair of the natural areas committee for Columbia Audubon Society. Mees has grown up his entire life with an interest in birds and has been a part of CAS for over 10 years.
“Time flies when you’re having fun,” Mees said. “I really enjoy coming out here and working and trying to make a difference in improving the property.”
Mees says he saw an over 100% increase in visitors at the Columbia Audubon Nature Sanctuary this past year.
“There’s been a lot more people out, and you can social distance from everybody else, and being outdoors, it’s a little bit more normal,” Mees said.
Columbia is not the only place seeing a rise in new bird-watchers. According to the Associated Press, the Cornell Lab of Ornithology has seen a 102% increase in downloads of its free bird identification app, Merlin ID, last year compared to 2019.
And the best time for new birders to start is the wintertime, according to Jim Gast, the president of the Columbia Audubon Society.
“It’s a good time because you don’t have a lot of leaves in the trees that can obscure the birds from your view,” Gast said. “There also aren’t as many species in the winter, so it’s easier to learn 20 birds than about 120 birds that you see in the spring.”
According to data from Cornell University’s eBird, a real-time online database tracking bird observations worldwide, birders have tracked almost 50 species at the Nature Sanctuary alone this winter with an average of about 20 species per visit. Bird sightings typically occur in the early morning or late afternoon, all depending on outside temperatures and the birds’ hunger, Gast said.
But not all new bird-watchers have to brave the cold or hike outdoors.
“Get bird food, put a bird feeder outside your window, and just stay at home,” Mees said. “I saw 20 different species at my bird feeder just the other day while having breakfast.”
The organization encourages people of all ages to explore the diverse habitats mid-Missouri has to offer and does so by restoring and protecting them while providing educational opportunities to the community.
A pro-tip Mees has for new birders: “Buy a decent pair of binoculars and a field guide, or what birders call a ‘bird book.’”
Play your cards right and you might spot a favorite wintertime bird of Mees’ and Gasts’, a yellow-bellied sapsucker.