Published Dec. 6, 2006, in the Wyoming Tribune Eagle, “Get creative with gifts for birders.”
2014 Update: The websites listed at the end of this column have been updated. There are now newer editions of the field guides mentioned. Bird-friendly coffee and chocolate are more widely available now at natural food stores.
By Barb Gorges
A good gift is useful, educational or edible, if not homemade. If someone on your gift list truly cares about wild birds, they don’t want energy and resources harvested from sensitive bird habitats wasted on making junk.
Here’s my list, sorted somewhat by a recipient’s degree of interest in birds.
First, for anyone, armchair bird watcher to ornithologist, Houghton Mifflin has three new illustrated books.
“Letters from Eden, A Year at Home, in the Woods” by Julie Zickefoose ($26) includes her watercolor sketches. A frequent contributor to Bird Watcher’s Digest, her bird and nature observations are often made in the company of her young children on their 80-acre farm in Ohio or from the 40-foot tower atop her house.
Zickefoose’s tower may have been her husband’s idea. He is Bill Thompson III, editor of Bird Watcher’s Digest and editor of “All Things Reconsidered, My Birding Adventures,” Roger Tory Peterson ($30).
Peterson was the originator of the modern field guide. From 1984 until his death in 1996, he wrote a regular column for the Digest. Peterson had the gift of writing about birds, bird places and bird people so anyone could enjoy his choice of topics. Anyone can enjoy this photo-illustrated book.
The third book, “The Songs of Wild Birds.” ($20) is a treat for eyes and ears. Author Lang Elliott chose his favorite stories about 50 bird species from his years of recording their songs. Each short essay faces a full page photo portrait of the bird. The accompanying CD has their songs and more commentary. My favorite is the puffin recording.
The field guide is the essential tool for someone moving up from armchair status. National Geographic’s fifth edition of its Field Guide to the Birds of North America ($24) came out this fall.
New are the thumb tabs for major bird groups, like old dictionaries have for each letter. It has more birds and more pages plus the bird names and range maps are updated.
Binoculars are the second most essential tool. If you are shopping for someone who hasn’t any or has a pair more than 20 years old, you can’t go wrong with 7 x 35 or 8 x 42 in one of the under $100 brands at sporting goods stores. You can also find an x-back-style harness ($20) there, an improvement over the regular strap.
Past the introductory level, a gift certificate would be better because fitting binoculars is as individual as each person’s eyes.
Spotting scopes don’t need fitting. However, if you find a good, low-end model, don’t settle for a low-end tripod because it won’t last in the field.
For extensive information on optics, see the Bird Watcher’s Digest Web site.
Bird feeders, bird seed, bird houses and bird baths are great gifts if the recipient or you are able to clean and maintain them. To match them with the local birds at the recipient’s house, call the local Audubon chapter or check the Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s Project FeederWatch and Birdhouse Network sites.
You can make a gift of a Lab membership ($35), which includes several publications, and of course, there’s Audubon and its magazine ($20 introductory offer). Bird Watcher’s Digest ($20 per year), mentioned above, makes learning about birds fun, as does Birder’s World magazine ($25 per year).
For someone who wants to discuss identifying obscure sparrows and other topics of interest to listers, they might be ready for membership in the American Birding Association ($40). The ABA also has a great catalog available to everyone online. It’s filled with optics, gear and every bird book and field guide available in English for the most obscure places in the world.
The ABA tempts members with mailings for trips to exotic birding hotspots, as well as its annual meetings held in different parts of the country. Also check Bird Watcher’s Digest for nationwide bird festival listings.
One subscription valuable to an academic type who doesn’t already have access, is the Birds of North America Online ($40). Every species has as many as 50 pages of information and hundreds of references to studies.
For the computer literate, Thayer Birding Software’s Guide to Birds of North America, version 3.5 ($75), includes photos, songs, videos, life histories, quizzes and search functions.
After the useful and educational, there’s the edible. Look for organically grown products because they don’t poison bird habitat. The ABA sells bird friendly, shade grown coffee and organic chocolate through its Web site.
Coffee and other items are available also at the International Migratory Bird Day web site, and support migratory bird awareness and education.
If the person on your list is truly committed to the welfare of wild birds and wildlife in general, skip the trinkets such as the plush bird toys that sing and don’t add to their collection of birdy t-shirts.
Look for products that are good for the environment. These are items that are energy efficient, solar-powered, rechargeable, refillable, fixable, recyclable, made from recycled or organic materials, or are locally grown or manufactured.
Or make a donation in their name to an organization like Audubon, the American Bird Conservancy or The Nature Conservancy which work to protect bird habitat.
Presents along these lines would be great gifts for your friend or family member, and for birds and other wildlife, any time of year.
American Bird Conservancy: membership, research, advocacy, publications, gear, www.abcbirds.org.
American Birding Association: membership, publications, books, optics, gear, travel www.aba.org.
Birder’s World: magazine, http://www.birdwatchingdaily.com.
Bird Watcher’s Digest: magazine, bird info, bird festival listings and gear for sale, www.BirdWatchersDigest.com.
Cornell Lab of Ornithology: membership, bird info, Citizen Science projects, www.birds.cornell.edu.
International Migratory Bird Day (Environment for the Americas): education, online store, www.birdday.org.
National Audubon Society: membership, magazine, research, advocacy, directory of chapters www.audubon.org.
North American Birds Online: Internet data base, http://bna.birds.cornell.edu/bna.
Thayer Birding: software, www.thayerbirding.com.
The Nature Conservancy: membership, publications, gear, www.nature.org.