For The Birds

On a crisp morning you open the windows and, if you’re lucky, you’re greeted by the happy chirping of birds. Most people don’t give our feathered friends a second thought, but maybe you should. 

Written By Karin Fabry-Cushenbery

If you’re interested in learning more about our native and visiting birds, Marion Audubon is the perfect place to start. 

“Our mission is to help people connect with nature and specifically birds,” says Marion Audubon President Michele Reyes. “Once people become aware of the amazing creatures all around us, it can enhance their outdoor experiences. Plus birding has both physical and psychological health benefits.”

Photo by Micheal Warren

Marion Audubon is a non-profit 501(c)(3) club run entirely by volunteers. The group offers guided birding tours at local parks and so much more. Members are also actively involved in multiple conservation projects, including monitoring a variety of birds, including Eastern Bluebirds, American Kestrels, Florida Scrub Jays and Bald Eagles.

“Come to a guided birding tour,” says Michele. “We offer free monthly trips and educational programs, plus additional birding trips for members. You’ll have fun while learning tips on how to find birds and identify them. You can also get started at home. Download the free Merlin Bird ID app. It helps you identify birds with a photo, a brief description or even by sound. Try using the sound ID feature in your own yard and see how many birds Merlin hears! Learn to recognize those most common birds first, and learn more birds as you encounter them. Or use the explore feature to see all the birds in your area. While printed bird guidebooks generally give you more detailed info, the app takes migration into consideration and will narrow down the list to what is present today.”

Michele adds that it’s important to note that like any app, Merlin Bird ID is not infallible, so make sure you actually see the bird before submitting a checklist. She also suggests using the eBird app to keep track of the birds you come across and find new ones. 

There are many birds that call Central Florida home all year, but there are also some that come for just a short while each winter.

“Some of the birds from our area migrate south to places like Mexico and South America for the winter while others from the north may winter in Florida,” says Michele. 

 “Multiple species of ducks, sparrows and warblers, plus catbirds and robins are some of the more commonly seen birds in the winter. Palm warblers are very common in winter. This brown or yellow bird can be spotted hopping on the ground or perched in a tree. The constant tail-bobbing is a good indicator. Another is the yellow underneath the tail—what we call the vent. One of the common birds to see, or rather hear, in winter is the Gray Catbird. If you’ve ever searched for a cat in a tree only to find a bird, chances are you heard a catbird’s call. This gray bird has a black cap and a rusty red area under its tail. Use the Merlin app to hear how this bird earned its name. The elegant Swallow-tailed Kite is an early migrator, the first to leave us in September but also the first to arrive and signal the coming spring in February. It’s easy to spot soaring high, with a long, split tail used for maneuvering.”

Michele says one of the best spots for birding in Ocala is the Ocala Wetland Recharge Park, which was also recently added to the Great Florida Birding and Wildlife Trail. 

“The accessible trails take you over ponds, and under trees where you’re sure to see some of the 173 species of birds that have been recorded there so far,” she says. 

Michele is always excited to share birding with others and says there are so many reasons she loves this hobby.

“The unpredictability and potential for really cool experiences is at the top,” she says. “Because the birds are constantly changing, no two days are the same. Of course, we all live for the moment when we find a rare bird, which are among us more than any of us realize; however even on the days when I see the usual birds, I enjoy watching their behaviors and interactions. Plus, I regularly get to experience some awe-inspiring moments like when I see an owl soar silently between trees with a lizard in its talons or when a bobcat runs past and I feel like I’m living in a Nat Geo episode.” 

Marion Audubon