That Nature Show: Want to ID That Bird in The Tree? There’s an app for That

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red shouldered hawk
The red shouldered hawk.

This column, That Nature Show, is about the nature right under your nose: in our backyards, playgrounds and parks! Stop and look around, you’ll be amazed at what surrounds you.

I wish I could bake. My grandmother could bake. She could also sew. Have I told you about she sewed my prom dress in a weekend? It was a fetching pink chiffon off-the-shoulder number. I don’t want to date myself, but back then, the movie Pretty In Pink was of the moment.

I don’t have a lot in common with my grandmother being myself a defroster of food and a purchaser of clothes, but what I have inherited is her twitcher-ness. A “twitcher” is unkind British slang for a birdwatcher, but I fondly remember my grandmother staring out the kitchen window looking all goggle-eyed at a nesting nuthatch, so I say, Twitchers Unite. Let’s talk binoculars.  Let’s talk squirrel-proof feeders. I have an app on my smartphone called Merlin that helps birding beginners. It asks a lot of questions to assist in your bird identification. First question: How big is the bird? (It helpfully gives silhouettes, and makes me feel like a child.) Is the bird a particular color? Is the bird located on land or at sea?

Merlin is indeed like the wizard it is named after.

I typed in: Medium. Reddish-brown. Land. I was watching a medium reddish-brown bird in the tall trees across the field that had recently been mowed by a cool farm machine that, according to my son, 9, looks like it is pooping hay bales. It was better than wizard magic! The app correctly brought up a picture of my bird. It was a Red-Shouldered Hawk.

Did I want to play its call? I aimed my phone’s wee little microphone toward the wild bird. “Kee-ah,” yelled my phone. “Kee-yah!” The bird turned curiously toward the sound. It said, incredulously, “Kee-yah?” Like, are you messing with me?

I was communicating with a wild bird! If only my grandmother could have been there. This was so much better than all the French I took in school to prepare to go one day to Paris to visit friends of the family. This was true inter-species exchange. This was not me being disappointed in the Louvre that the Mona Lisa was so small.

After I played them this goofy clip of jazz musicians interpreting bird songs the kids have been chirping and warbling themselves. In fact, some scientists speculate that this is how we humans evolved speech.



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