When COVID-19 surged across the United States this spring, it brought devastation and disruption in ways few of us have experienced. Meanwhile, birds went about their business. And for those of us struggling with the crisis, they have connected, comforted, and entertained us like never before.
At ABC, we even created a Slack channel for staff to communicate the ways in which birds have touched us and our families this spring. Sharing bird encounters became a welcome distraction during an otherwise dire spring. We've enjoyed it so much that we thought we'd share some of our best anecdotes. After all, everyone needs a good bird story or two during times like these.
These are just a tiny sampling of a much larger story unfolding over the last few months, as millions of Americans have discovered or re-discovered a love of birds. Given all the attention we've been paying to birds, there's an abundance of great stories this spring — and we want to hear yours! Please take a moment to add them in the comment box below.
"This spring, during a particularly dreary and covid-worried day, I sat out in the backyard, opening my ears to all bird sounds and my eyes to any movement. My mind turned to just birds. So when a mid-sized songbird flew into my peripheral view, then vanished into our tall arrowwood viburnum shrub, I was ready and waiting to parse out my visitor's identity. Hmm. Longer than a sparrow. A thrush? It moved again, working its way into the dense holly. I saw it had a longer tail than expected. A catbird? Then it flew into dense cover of the weeping cherry over our tiny pond and revealed itself for two fleeting cameos: Yellow-breasted Chat! This shy bird of the dense, shrubby transition between abandoned field and young forest is not normally seen in a tightly packed suburb like ours. In fact, in our 20 years here, I'd never seen one at home. But birds move and can't always be pigeon-holed. My advice: Expect the unexpected in your yard. The more time you spend listening and looking, the more likely you will have backyard surprises."
Howard Youth – Senior Writer/Editor
"A couple of weeks ago, we had a cold snap, just when we thought spring was here to stay. It turned into a very cold, rainy Thursday. While we try to be thankful for every rainstorm in the semi-arid Northern Great Plains, it didn't help my psyche. By the end of the work day, I was feeling tired and discouraged. However, the rain stopped a bit before sunset. A friend called to say two Cattle Egrets (rare birds for Buffalo, South Dakota) were by the road just west of town. My husband and I raced out in time to see the world transformed. Ephemeral streams weaved across the land, the grass looked twice as green, and birds were singing everywhere! Not only did we find the Cattle Egrets, but also Western Kingbirds, Western Meadowlarks, Yellow-headed Blackbirds, Lark Buntings, Chipping Sparrows, Clay-colored Sparrows, and more. It was a wonderfully vivid reminder in these uncertain times that storms do pass."
Jessica Howell – Northern Plains Conservation Specialist
"My backyard pond became a stage for migrating warblers this year, and I got to see the show thanks to COVID-19. I knew by their high-pitched calls that Blackpoll Warblers had arrived, but never did I imagine they would descend from the trees to take a bath while I watched. Two of them hopped around the perimeter of the pond before deciding it was safe enough and hopped in for a quick spritz. The next special visitor was a female American Redstart, who flashed her gorgeous tail feathers a few times before settling down for a drink. She came so close, I could have reached out and touched her from my pond-side seat. What a gift to know that my landscaping efforts for birds made a difference, at least for these weary travelers. Now I'm wondering whether these a.m. warbler antics have been happening on spring mornings all along, but I'd never been home to see the them?"
Clare Nielsen – Vice President of Communications
"Birds have been a constant source of joy and entertainment for my family since we have been all staying at home. My young daughters have each ordered their own birding ID books, we've added more feeders to our yard, and my husband has set up camera traps to see which birds he can capture. Birds have also helped my children connect with long-distance family, such as their grandparents in Massachusetts, as we talk about which ones are showing up for spring migration — Who's seen a Baltimore Oriole? Are the Ruby-throated Hummingbirds back?"
Erin S. Chen – Vice President for Development
"As a forester, birds have changed the way that I think when I'm in the woods. Before working for ABC, I knew little about birds and couldn't tell you what an American Redstart or a Blackburnian Warbler was, let alone the differences between them. Now, I've learned many things about birds, including their songs, and I enjoy looking for new ones to add to my life list. It's almost like I'm a kid again playing Pokemon, trying to catch (a glimpse of) them all! When I'm walking in the forest now, I'm listening more than ever, because birds tell a story of the woods that I never knew."
Michael Paling – Michigan Private Lands Forester
"Working with grassland birds for the past decade, I've had very little time during the breeding season to pay much attention to migrating warblers. This year is different. We've had to postpone our field work, which has given me an opportunity to go birding and rediscover a passion for warblers that's been overshadowed by my obsessive grassland bird activities. I've been visiting an overgrown pipeline trail within walking distance of my house, which, to my surprise, has been filled with migrating warblers. In just two days, I was able to add Kentucky Warbler, Magnolia Warbler, Chestnut-sided Warbler, American Redstart, and Common Yellowthroat to my Texas eBird list."
Jim Giocomo – Coordinator, Oaks and Prairies Joint Venture
"My seven-year-old daughter has become very interested in birds during the quarantine, especially as spring migration picked up and Scarlet Tanagers and Chestnut-sided Warblers arrived in our backyard. I overheard her telling her virtual first grade class about the American Redstart she saw the other day, and I was thrilled that she's sharing her new interest with her friends. Her growing love of birds and the natural world has been a bright spot during these difficult times."
Amy Upgren – Alliance for Zero Extinction Program Officer
"The closure of many of Washington, D.C.'s city parks and open spaces left few places to get outdoors during this challenging time. Luckily, a pair of islands on the Anacostia River remained open. Even better, the islands, which are a district conservation area, provide key stopover habitat for migratory birds. During the spring, I visited them more than ever to walk, birdwatch, fish, and enjoy the outdoors in a safe, socially distanced way. While there, I saw several bird species (Prairie Warbler and Bank Swallow) for the first time, which was a big morale boost for me."
Conor Marshall – Policy and Communications Coordinator
"Since beginning to work at home in March, I have become much more grounded with my surroundings in Linden, Virginia. A special treat was the arrival of Cerulean Warblers in early May. As Deputy Director of International Programs, I work on conservation projects that benefit these birds' wintering grounds in Colombia and Ecuador. Although I haven't been down there for some time due to the pandemic, I've enjoyed seeing Ceruleans and listening to their buzzy trills during afternoon walks on the mountain where I live. The experience has reinforced the importance of the work we do for migratory birds, and I am overjoyed that they've safely returned to Virginia!"
Wendy Willis – Deputy Director of International Programs
"In mid-May, I had a great day birding, counting 51 species, including 20 minutes up close with a male Scarlet Tanager. But the highlight was when a curious Downy Woodpecker tried to land on me three times. It got within 6 inches each time. I thought about letting it land, but it occurred to me that being pecked by a woodpecker might hurt, so I made subtle movements each time it tried a closer approach. It could've been a great story, but at least now I won't need to explain any holes in my shoulder to a doctor."
Bryan Lenz – Collisions Campaign Manager