Copyright ©2010 NPR. For personal, noncommercial use only. See Terms of Use. For other uses, prior permission required.

SCOTT SIMON, host:

Hey, I'm a city kid. Only birds I knew about growing up in Chicago were pigeons - well, and Cardinals, when they came to play at Wrigley Field. But I went birding the other day with Don and Lillian Stokes. They've just published their latest birding guide: "The Stokes Field Guide to the Birds of North America," which amounts to a kind of America's Most Wanted Fowl. I didn't want to go too far out of my natural habitat. But the Stokes said there was a place not too far from the subways and Starbucks of Washington, D.C. called Huntley Meadows Park, where we could see scores of birds.

We started where many experienced birders do: sitting next to a bird feeder a few yards away from the parking lot and just watching. The Stokes brought the binoculars, I brought the questions.

Didn't they all go to Miami a few weeks ago? I mean what birds are left?

Ms. LILLIAN STOKES (Co-author, "The Stokes Field Guide to the Birds of North America"): Well, there are a lot of birds left. Certainly some have migrated through, but there are plenty that live here all year round.

SIMON: Now, we're here in front of a feeder. I don't think I've seen a bird interested in it though.

Mr. DON STOKES (Co-author, "The Stokes Field Guide to the Birds of North America"): We don't have any right now but I hear birds just all around us. I heard some birds just up in the trees and we're going to have to wait to see when they come down. They don't feed all the time but morning is a good time because they have just spent the night and used up a lot of the energy that they have tried to save. And so they have to come and restock. One thing that did happen just as we were setting up here, is that a hawk was in the area.

And this looked like a Cooper's Hawk to me. And that's a hawk that eats other small birds. And so they often come to feeder areas looking for birds that they can pick off...

SIMON: Oh gosh. So the little guys eat the seed and the hawks eat the little guys.

Mr. STOKES: That's right. It's a bird feeder for the hawks too but it's a different kind. So I see birds coming in right now. They're coming in through the woods and filtering in. And some of these little birds, and we'll probably see Chickadees, Carolina Chickadees here. Up where we have, we have a different one called the Black Cat Chickadee but they look pretty much the same. But they live in little flocks all winter, and here they are coming in. We can begin to see them coming up in the trees.

SIMON: Oh, yeah. I can see a couple.

Mr. STOKES: Okay.

SIMON: Yeah.

Mr. STOKES: So we've got to get your binoculars set and get you learning how to use those binoculars right. We're hearing a little (makes bird sound) yeah.

Ms. STOKES: Tufted titmice are giving little scolding noises right there.

(Soundbite of birds)

Mr. STOKES: So there they are going down to the feeder. So what we want you to do is...

SIMON: Yeah.

Mr. STOKES: ...get your binoculars...

SIMON: There's some - even I'm excited. But, my gosh, look - oh, they're gone. They just...

Mr. STOKES: Oh, they'll come back and forth.

Ms. STOKES: This is normal. They go to the tree, run over the feeder, pick a seed, and then go back to the tree and often eat it or hold it between their feet and crack it open and eat the...

Mr. STOKES: In fact, one's doing that...

SIMON: So they get takeaway.

Ms. STOKES: Yeah.

Mr. STOKES: Takeaway. Takeout food. Definitely takeout. There's some birds that like to sit and just munch down and they need seating. You know, seats available at the restaurant. The others are simply straight takeout. And we're hearing them right now. The little chickadees are going dee, dee, dee, dee, dee, dee. And then we have titmice as well.

Ms. STOKES: A lot of times, how we were talking about how the hawks can come near your bird feeder, so birds can either flee the hawk or sometimes they get absolutely still like that - they don't move a muscle if they're concerned that there might be a hawk in the area. And that's another way to avoid a hawk, because hawks are very tuned into motion.

SIMON: So they won't attract attention.

Ms. STOKES: Exactly. Exactly.

SIMON: Yeah. I see. Yeah.

Ms. STOKES: Sort of try to make - camouflage yourself a little bit, hide under the suet feeder and lay low until the...

Mr. STOKES: And freeze.

Ms. STOKES: ... and freeze until the hawk moves on.

SIMON: Is there a hawk nearby now?

Ms. STOKES: Well...

Mr. STOKES: The birds are sort of telling us there are. Oh, yeah.

Mrs. STOKES: Yeah. Look. Right overhead, see that?

SIMON: It just flew by?

Ms. STOKES: I think that was the Cooper's Hawk.

SIMON: Yeah.

Ms. STOKES: Just as you said that I saw it come into the clearing way high up.

Mr. STOKES: The birds tell you when the hawk is around. And often we see the birds freeze at our feeders, you know, in motion. And we just know there's a hawk in the area and, you know, two minutes later there it is. It shows up even before we'd seen it. So the bird's behavior can tell you the location of the bird.

SIMON: Oh, I'm a sorry. (Unintelligible)

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. STOKES: Okay, that little teak we just heard. This little - that's a Downey woodpecker call. Hear that? Little teak.

(Soundbite of bird)

Mr. STOKES: Birds to use sounds a lot because birds are not always easy to see, so you're always listing for the birds that might be around.

So we can hear the little bird. Can you hear the bird chips and sounds...

SIMON: Well, you know, it's funny. When we got out here, all I could hear was the airplanes.

Mr. STOKES: Yeah.

SIMON: But I must say, you do sort of adjust your ear, right?

Mr. STOKES: Yes.

SIMON: And you sort of dismiss the airplane sound...

Mr. STOKES: Yes.

SIMON: ...and you begin to concentrate on little...

Mr. STOKES: And here comes, I think some more birds coming in.

SIMON: We leave the domesticated bird feeder and head out on a boardwalk over the freshwater wetland carved out by the Potomac River. Don sets up a scope there, the kind I used to dream about to use to watch the windows of apartment buildings across the street. There are a raft of ducks in front of us, green-headed mallards, which I recognize, and another I'd never seen.

Ooh.

Mr. STOKES: A spotting scope.

SIMON: Ooh, beautiful.

Mr. STOKES: Yes.

SIMON: Oh my gosh. You guys got to see this. This is...

Mr. STOKES: Isn't that pretty?

SIMON: They are beautiful.

Mr. STOKES: Yeah.

SIMON: That metallic green. Those are ducks, right?

Mr. STOKES: That's right. These are ducks. Very good.

SIMON: Oh, they are...

(Soundbite of laughter)

SIMON: Well, that's a...

Mr. STOKES: See, you did know some birds already.

SIMON: I knew well, the University of Oregon team mascot are the Ducks. They are beautiful.

Mr. STOKES: And these are mallards and the male has the beautiful iridescent green head and the female is brown streaked.

SIMON: They're a couple.

Mr. STOKES: There's a bunch.

SIMON: They're together.

Mr. STOKES: They're together. They really are.

SIMON: I mean this could be out of a Disney movie.

Mr. STOKES: And you know, they - the mallard actually uses all that metallic color to display to the female. He'll actually raise the back of that, all his feathers along his nape and turn and go away from her and shine the light back at her face.

SIMON: With the spotting scope it's as if you were next to them. I mean you could almost pat their necks.

(Soundbite of footsteps)

Mr. STOKES: We just found another bird in the distant very far away.

SIMON: Oh. Is he...

Mr. STOKES: He's a big bird.

SIMON: He is a big bird. Gray and long billed.

Mr. STOKES: That's right.

Ms. STOKES: That's a great blue heron.

SIMON: Is that a great blue heron?

Mr. STOKES: Yes.

SIMON: It is bluish gray.

Mr. STOKES: It's sort of bluish gray, yeah.

SIMON: Oh my gosh.

Mr. STOKES: And it's a very pretty bird. And here it is in gorgeous light.

SIMON: Yes.

Mr. STOKES: It looks like it's preening its feathers.

SIMON: Yeah.

Mr. STOKES: It's trying to take care of its feathers. Birds spend a lot of time preening because they get one suit of clothes for the whole year and they've got to make it last so they've got to take care with it.

SIMON: That blue gray is a beautiful color.

Mr. STOKES: Isn't that pretty?

SIMON: Yes.

Mr. STOKES: This bird is about four feet tall, so this is a big bird.

SIMON: The Stokes have seen birds all over the world, and that made me wonder if there's a Great White Whale among birds, some bird in the world that they've always wanted to see but never quite have.

Mr. STOKES: It doesn't have to be rare and it doesn't have to be the elusive one that is the one. It's the one in front of you that's the important one. So no, there is no Great White Whale in birding for us.

Ms. STOKES: Not for us, but certainly, you know, birding is something that people participate in in many, many different ways. As we said, the majority of people enjoy birds in their backyard, so that's why it's very thrilling for them to attract a cardinal or see a chickadee flock or - my goodness, to get nesting bluebirds in your yard. That's beyond thrills for a lot of people.

(Soundbite of birds)

Ms. STOKES: So it's, it's - we are very fortunate, actually, that together from that little meeting so many years ago, that we've had almost 30 years of doing this. So we're thrilled.

Mr. STOKES: You know, people often ask us, well, do you get tired of seeing the same birds all the time, like the common ones - or you must've seen everything, you know, and there's nothing - is there anything else for you to see? And we always say that's just never the case. There's never a bird that I can't learn something new about when I see it. And I think that's one of the challenges of birding, is being able to keep seeing new things and discover new things about the behavior and the beauty of them. The ones, even the ones you think you know, that's sort of lesson about people too - somebody said it once, one time: The real journey in life is not in finding new places but in having new eyes. And I think the challenge of having new eyes is a great challenge to life. Not only - in anything you look at, but with birding especially, it's a lot of fun. That's what I love about it.

(Soundbite of birds)

SIMON: Don and Lillian Stokes. Their new book: "The Stokes Field Guide to the Birds of North America."

To have your own birding adventure, head to our website, npr.org. We have a little game set up for you to play there. You can match some of the Huntley Meadows Park bird calls...

(Soundbite of birds)

SIMON: ...with their photos.

(Soundbite of music)

SIMON: I'm transformed. I can't wait to get out there again.

Copyright © 2010 NPR. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to NPR. This transcript is provided for personal, noncommercial use only, pursuant to our Terms of Use. Any other use requires NPR's prior permission. Visit our permissions page for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR's programming is the audio.

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.