Bird and wildlife books for winter reading & gift giving

2018-12How to be a Good CreatureTry these bird and wildlife books for winter reading and gift giving

This column was also posted at Wyoming Network News: It appeared Dec. 16, 2018, in the Wyoming Tribune Eagle.

By Barb Gorges

Several books published this year about birds and other animals I recommend to you as fine winter reading, or gift giving.

The first, “How to be a Good Creature, A Memoir in Thirteen Animals” is a memoir by Sy Montgomery, a naturalist who has written many children’s as well as adult books about animals.

Montgomery has been around the world for her research. Some of the animals she met on her travels and the animals she and her husband have shared their New Hampshire home with have taught her important life lessons: dog, emu, hog, tarantula, weasel, octopus.

This might make a good read-aloud with perceptive middle-school and older children.

2018-12 Warblers and Woodpeckers“Warblers & Woodpeckers, A Father-Son Big Year of Birding” by Sneed B. Collard III was a great read-aloud. For two weeks every evening I read it to my husband, Mark, while he washed the dishes–a long-standing family tradition.

Like Montgomery, Collard is a naturalist and author, though normally he writes specifically and prolifically for children. He lives in western Montana.

When his son is turning 13, Collard realizes he has limited time to spend with him before his son gets too busy. Birdwatching becomes a common interest, though his son is much more proficient. They decide to do a big year, to count as many bird species as possible, working around Collard’s speaking schedule and taking friends up on their invitations to visit.

There are many humorous moments and serious realizations, life birds and nemesis birds, and a little snow and much sunshine. Mark plans to pass the book on to our younger son who ordered it for him for his birthday.

2018-12Wild MigrationsTwo Wyoming wildlife biologists, Matthew Kauffman and Bill Rudd, who have spoken at Cheyenne Audubon meetings on the subject, are part of the group that put together “Wild Migrations, Atlas of Wyoming’s Ungulates.” I ordered a copy sight unseen.

We know that many bird species migrate, but Wyoming is just now getting a handle on and publicizing the migrations of elk, moose, deer, antelope, bighorn sheep, mountain goat and bison, thanks to improved, cheaper tracking technology.

Each two-page spread in this over-sized book is an essay delving into an aspect of ungulates with easy-to-understand maps and graphs. For example, we learn Wyoming’s elk feed grounds were first used in the 1930s to keep elk from raiding farmers’ haystacks and later to keep elk from infecting cattle with brucellosis.

Then we learn that fed elk don’t spend as much time grazing on summer range as unfed elk, missing out on high-quality forage 22 to 30 days a year. Shortening the artificial feeding season in spring might encourage fed elk to migrate sooner, get better forage, and save the Wyoming Game and Fish Department money.

This compendium of research can aid biologists, land managers and land owners in smarter wildlife management. At the same time, it is very readable for the wildlife enthusiast. Don’t miss the foreword by novelist Annie Proulx.

2018-12 Guide to Western Reptiles and AmphibiansThanks, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, for sending me a copy of the newly revised “Peterson Field Guide to Western Reptiles & Amphibians” by Robert C. Stebbins and Samuel M. McGinnis to review. I now know that what friends and I nearly stepped on while hiking last summer was a prairie rattlesnake, one of 12 kinds of rattlers found in the west.

There are 40-plus Peterson field guides for a variety of nature topics, all stemming from Roger Tory Peterson’s 1934 guide to the birds of eastern North America. I visited the Roger Tory Peterson Institute in Jamestown, New York, this fall and saw his original art work.

The reptile and amphibian guide first came out in 1966, written and illustrated by the late Stebbins. In in its fourth edition, his color plates still offer quick comparisons between species. Photos now offer additional details and there are updated range maps and descriptions of species life cycles and habitats. It would be interesting to compare the maps in the 1966 edition with the new edition since so many species, especially amphibians, have lost ground.

CheyBirdsbyMonth_FC_onlyI would be doing local photographer Pete Arnold a disservice if I didn’t remind you that you can find our book, “Cheyenne Birds by the Month” at the Cheyenne Botanic Gardens, Wyoming State Museum, Cheyenne Depot Museum, Riverbend Nursery and PBR Printing. People tell us they are using Pete’s photos to identify local birds. I hope the experience encourages them to pick up a full-fledged bird guide someday by Peterson, Floyd, Sibley or Kaufman.

Bioblitz at the Belvoir Ranch

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Jacelyn Downey, Audubon Rockies Community Naturalist, is getting ready to let a young citizen scientist release a yellow warbler that was caught in a mist net during the Belvoir Ranch Bioblitz. Photo by Barb Gorges.

Published July 17, 2016, in the Wyoming Tribune Eagle, “Kids explore nature of the Belvoir Ranch.”

By Barb Gorges

I was delighted to recognize my neighbor at the Belvoir Ranch Bioblitz last month. She is going to be a senior at Cheyenne East High in the fall and was there with two friends. All three were planning to spend the weekend looking for birds, mammals, herps (reptiles and amphibians), pollinators, macroinvertebrates and plants, to fulfill more hours required for their Congressional Award gold medals.

The weekend could have served for all four award areas: volunteer public service (we were all volunteer citizen scientists collecting data), personal development (the staff taught us a lot of new things), physical fitness (hiking up and down Lone Tree Creek in the heat was arduous), and expedition/exploration (many of us, including my neighbor and her friends, camped out and cooked meals despite being only 20 miles from Cheyenne).

Mark and I have attended other bioblitzes around the state, but this was the first one close to Cheyenne. With all of the publicity from the four sponsoring groups, Audubon Rockies, The Nature Conservancy, University of Wyoming Biodiversity Institute and the Wyoming Geographic Alliance, a record 100 people attended, plus the staff of 50 from various natural science disciplines.

When I asked my neighbor why she and her friends had come, she said, “We’re science nerds.” That was exciting to hear.

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My neighbor and friends net aquatic invertebrates including dragonfly and damselfly larvae.  A blue and green pollinator trap is set up on the far side of the pond. Photo by Barb Gorges.

There were a lot of junior science nerds in attendance with their families. Small children enjoyed wading into the pond along the creek to scoop up dragonfly and damselfly larvae —and even crayfish.

A surprising number of children were up at 6 a.m. Saturday for the bird survey. The highlight was the raven nest in a crevice on the canyon wall, with three young ravens crowding the opening, ready to fledge.

Sunday morning’s bird mist netting along the creek was very popular. Several birds that had been hard to see with binoculars were suddenly in hand.

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Zach Hutchinson, Audubon Rockies Community Naturalist, discusses the captured bird he is holding in his left hand. Photo by Barb Gorges.

Because it wasn’t at an official bird banding site, the mist netting was strictly educational and the birds were soon released. Several young children had the opportunity to hold a bird and release it, feeling how light it was, how fast its heart beat and feeling the little whoosh of air as it took flight. What I wouldn’t give to know if any of the children grow up to be bird biologists or birdwatchers.

The Belvoir Ranch is owned by the city of Cheyenne and stretches miles to the west between I-80 and the Colorado-Wyoming state line. The city bought it in 2003 and 2005 to protect our upstream aquifer, or groundwater, as well as the surface water.

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Bioblitz birdwatchers head down along Lone Tree Creek at 6 a.m. on June 12 to survey the birds. Photo by Barb Gorges.

While limited grazing and hunting continues as it did under private ownership, other parts of the master plan have yet to come to fruition: wind farm, landfill, golf course, or general recreation development. It is normally closed to the public. However, progress is being made on trails to connect the ranch to Colorado’s Soapstone Prairie Natural Area and/or Red Mountain Open Space.

A good landowner takes stock of his property. The city has some idea of what’s out there, including archeological sites. But with budgets tightening, there won’t be funding to hire consultants for a closer look. But there are a lot of citizen scientists available.

The data from the Bioblitz weekend went into the Wyobio database,, a place where data from all over Wyoming can be entered. The bird data also went into

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A University of Wyoming graduate student and a citizen scientist filter water from the creek to prepare it for DNA analysis. The sample will show what amphibians have been swimming there. Photo by Barb Gorges.  

The data began to paint a picture of the Belvoir: 62 species of animals including 50 birds, 8 mammals, 4 herps, plus 13 taxa of macroinvertebrates (not easily identified to species) and 12 taxa of pollinators (bees and other insects), plus many species of plants. All that diversity was from exploring half a mile of one creek within the ranch’s total 18,800 acres–about 30 square miles.

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This ground nest seems to have one smaller egg laid by an interloper. Many grassland bird species build their nests on the ground. Photo by Barb Gorges.

The members of the City Council who approved the ranch purchase are to be congratulated on making it public land in addition to protecting our watershed. Sometimes we don’t have to wait for the federal and state governments to do the right thing.  The essence of Wyoming is its big natural landscapes and we are lucky to have one on the west edge of Wyoming’s largest city.

Let’s also congratulate the parents who encouraged their children to examine the critters in the muddy pond and pick up mammal scat (while wearing plastic gloves) on the trails among other activities.

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A Wyoming Game and Fish Department biologist introduces a Wandering Garter Snake to a young citizen scientist. Photo by Barb Gorges.

Someday, these kids will grow up to be like my high school neighbor and her friends. Someday they could be the graduate students, professors and land use professionals. No matter what they become, they can always contribute scientific data by being citizen scientists.

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Citizen scientists of all ages learned to identify types of aquatic invertebrates at the Belvoir Ranch Bioblitz. Photo by Barb Gorges.

How to raise a birdwatching child

How to Raise a Wild Child cover

“How to Raise a Wild Child” by Scott D. Sampson.

Published May 25, 2015, in the Wyoming Tribune Eagle, “Birds are always around to fascinate the young.”

By Barb Gorges

I’ve been invited to visit with a group of mothers to share with them a few tips on birdwatching with young children.

It’s been more than 20 years since our kids were preschoolers and I’m trying to remember just what my husband, Mark, and I did. We must have done something right: One son recently bought his own binoculars, and the other reports interesting birds from his travels.

I doubt we were very different from other parents who have a serious interest in a field or outdoor pursuit: You just take the kids with you. We took ours birdwatching, fishing, hunting, camping and hiking.

Of course, it isn’t necessary to be the child’s parent in order to mentor them—just more convenient.

Babies are as mobile as the distance you are willing to carry them–as long as diapers and milk hold out.

When kids start walking, you are suddenly limited to how far they are willing to go. They are a lot more willing if they are comfortable: warm and dry—or cool in the summer, protected from sunburn and bites, not averse to outhouses or bushes, with plenty of food and water, and naptime far in the distance.

How do you make a child interested in birds? Like so many other traits, you model it. No guarantee it will take.

The great thing about fostering an interest in birds is there are always birds around. And they have color, movement and sound. All you have to do is point. You don’t have to know much at first.

As kids get older, it isn’t hard to introduce them to a field guide full of colorful illustrations, then working together to figure out the names of bird species, or going online some place like

Toy binoculars are perfect for imitating adult birdwatchers. By grade school, kids might be able to appreciate what they are seeing through higher quality binoculars.

Don’t make up stuff when you don’t know the answer. It’s OK to say “I don’t know.” Look it up—or call me.

It’s OK if your child doesn’t become an ornithological know-it-all by age 7. Perhaps you observe your child is often distracted by rocks, weeds, sticks or worms instead. There’s a lot of nature to enjoy out there besides birds.

It doesn’t hurt to point out a pretty flower (try not to pick it) or insect or an animal track. Birders often learn something about a bird by observing its whole environment—food sources, nesting materials, perches, predators.

It’s OK if your kids find other ways to entertain (or distract) themselves while you bird. Maybe they would like to take along a sketchbook, a camera, or a butterfly net. But sometimes kids just have to dig in the dirt or chase around and be silly.

Every child is different so it is up to you to figure out what will keep yours interested in coming outdoors with you again.

If you want philosophical guidance, look for a new book called “How to Raise a Wild Child, The Art and Science of Falling in Love with Nature,” by Scott D. Sampson, known for his appearances on the PBS Kids show “Dinosaur Train.”

His worry is if more kids don’t get outside and learn to love it, nature will lose her constituency and the Earth will be ravaged until it can no longer support human life.

He wants to see more “hummingbird” parents rather than helicopter parenting, allowing kids to make discoveries. He wants to see school playgrounds filled with natural landscapes and objects, not asphalt and gravel. He wants kids to get dirty. He has a bibliography listing studies proving why spending time in nature is good for kids—and the rest of us.

Sampson’s book is a direct descendent of Richard Louv’s “Last Child in the Woods” (, but it has “Nature Mentoring Basics” and lists of things you can do at different age levels.

If you need more local ideas, check out WY Outside, This year they are holding the WY Outside Challenge.

My family camped a lot when my sister and I were kids, but I don’t remember either of our parents doing anything in particular, beyond sending us to Girl Scouts, to guide both of us into our love of the outdoors, except supporting us as we began to seek the outdoors on our own.

Not every child delighting in a wild bird is going to become an ornithologist. That’s OK. It is their appreciation for birds and the rest of nature we are after, hoping that it will foster good stewardship and a healthy life.

“Last Child in the Woods” by Richard Louv, book review

winter hike

Over 100 people of all ages hiked January 1, 2013, at Curt Gowdy State Park. The “First Day” hike tradition has now spread to other Wyoming state parks. See for a nation-wide list of hikes. Photo by Barb Gorges.

Published Jan. 24, 2007, in the Wyoming Tribune Eagle, “Out equals healthy.”

2015 Update: Richard Louv has written a new book (2011), “The Nature Principle.” “The future will belong to the nature-smart—those individuals, families, businesses, and political leaders who develop a deeper understanding of the transformative power of the natural world and who balance the virtual with the real. The more high-tech we become, the more nature we need.” See more at

By Barb Gorges

How are you doing with your New Year’s resolutions? Mine are the same as last year, but I hope to be more successful.

One was to go outside more often. This year I also want to see more birds and improve my birding skills.

The outdoors, with the addition of sunscreen, should be good for me. Studies show gazing at the natural contours of land and vegetation improves both our mental and physical health.

I’ve recently been reading “Last Child in the Woods, Saving Our Children from Nature Deficit Disorder,” by Richard Louv.

His main premise is that it’s a problem that today’s child is no longer allowed to, or even interested in, hanging out in the natural environment.

For parents, letting kids spend free time in front of a TV or computer screen is preferable to the outdoors where they might meet dangerous strangers, even if it is a statistically rare event. And, the woods may no longer be down at the end of the street or even within biking distance.

Supervised outdoor experiences are better than none, but are not the same as dinking around on one’s own, or building a tree house or fort with friends. Louv sees these experiences as developmentally necessary.

I mostly grew up in an inner suburb of Milwaukee, Wis., sometimes playing pioneer in the undeveloped end of the cemetery. But at my grandfather’s in Illinois there was a stream at the bottom of his hill just right for imaginative play.

One year we lived in Oak Park, Ill., with a city park across the street. We neighborhood kids spent hours there. The only time the woods were literally at the end of our street was the six months or so we lived in Paducah, Ky.

My own children played outside until we got a computer. Even though we limited its use, they turned instead to reading. Outdoor activity became confined to scouting and family outings.

Louv cites many studies that correlate lack of outdoor exposure with ill health in children, especially obesity. But the biggest loser may be the environment if children don’t make connections with it.

Why worry about clean air and water if you can filter everything before it comes into the house? Why worry about wildlife if you can clone them on the computer screen or see them on high definition TV?

Louv gives examples of school programs and housing developments that safely allow kids to explore nature on their own, but they sound impossibly utopian. How do you convince today’s young couples to choose those kinds of alternatives if they themselves are already part of the indoor generation?

Louv was amazed a group of university microbiology students he met couldn’t identify local fauna and flora. He says opportunities for microbiology study have flourished while the study of mega animals and plants, or natural history, has declined.

Bird watching is a bright spot, continuing to grow by leaps and bounds. Recently, 23 students signed up for the local Audubon chapter’s winter birding class. They wanted to know everything the instructor knew, not just identification. But most were from the outdoor generation.

Although one might never get further than backyard birding, it can lead to concern for the wider world, since for instance, the Swainson’s hawk soaring over Cheyenne in the summer eats grasshoppers in Argentina in winter.

However, an interest in birds doesn’t always lead to ecological enlightenment and advocacy as I would hope.

The other book I’ve been reading is “To See Every Bird on Earth, A Father, a Son and a Lifelong Obsession,” by Dan Koeppel. It finally explained for me the phenomenon of listing.

Listers keep records of the first time they identify a bird species for their life list. They may also keep a list by state or county, and a yard list, or a year list—or a country list, if they travel as much as Koeppel’s father did.

Richard Koeppel became addicted to adding birds to his life list. Unfortunately, he didn’t channel his interest into the field of ornithology, or pass it on to his sons, but followed his parents’ wishes to study medicine.

As an itinerant doctor, he had the money and the time to book passage on birding tours to become one of the world’s top ten listers competing for the longest list.

Koeppel saw 7,200 of 9,600 species found worldwide before health problems made him decide to quit a few years ago.

A mild obsession can give life more depth, but to take it to the depth of the “Big Listers” is unhealthy, I think. Sure they were outside, but it doesn’t seem like they saw the forest for the birds.

No chance I’ll get overly obsessed with birding now if I haven’t already in 25 years of Audubon field trips.

I have Richard Louv to thank for making my resolution a health prescription since he touts the benefits of green landscapes for all ages.

I hope “green” is just a synonym for “natural.” I’d hate to wait for my local landscape to turn green. This time of year, the prairie is mostly 29 shades of brown, with white accents, but it works for me.

“My Garden Neighbors,” L.A. Reed, book review

My Garden Neighbors book cover

The cover of “My Garden Neighbors” features a drawing by the author. Courtesy

Published Jan. 19, 2005, in the Wyoming Tribune Eagle, “Birder’s interest piqued by book a century old.”

2015 Update: A new online search shows the author’s full name is Lucas Albert Reed. He wrote mainly on religious subjects. Many copies of this book are available online for sale. Read a digitized version, complete with drawings by the author, at

By Barb Gorges

My Garden Neighbors, True Stories of Nature’s Children by L. A. Reed, B.S., M.S., with illustrations by the author, Review and Herald Publishing Association, Washington, D.C., 1911, copyright 1905 by L.A. Reed.

A couple months ago, Edna Hudson called me to see about donating bird books. I found a home for them at the Rocky Mountain Bird Observatory (, which will either put them in its library or sell them at a fundraising auction in April.

But one book, the subject of this review, caught my eye and I will either mail it or a check to Rocky Mountain Bird Observatory later. Edna said she bought it for resale at her shop long ago, but had no other information.

My Garden Neighbors, by L.A Reed, is apparently written for children. One of the last pages is in smaller type and is addressed to teachers, giving them study ideas and informing them outdoor study aids body as well as mind.

Then there’s the cover’s patina of hard use. Another clue was stuck between the pages, a certificate for junior membership in the Seventh-Day Adventist Young People’s Society of Missionary Volunteers, dated 1929, for William Archer, Boulder, Colo.

A search of the online used book seller, Alibris, shows two copies in much better shape available for $16 and $37, but no background information available.

With skepticism, I Googled the publisher’s name. What I found is no doubt familiar to some of my friends because Review and Herald has been the publishing house of the Seventh-Day Adventists since the 1850s. They still publish children’s nature literature.

Too close to deadline, I can’t find out more about the author, whom I suspect is a man. For one, it would have been highly unusual in 1905 for a woman to have a Master of Science degree. Plus, even though the stories in each chapter are told in the third person, they are told from the point of view of “the man.”

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The author has little respect for bird-eating cats. Courtesy

And while the animals are referred to in that quaintly polite, somewhat anthropomorphic style characteristic of the age, there’s no softening of the reality of nature.

For instance, Mr. Sparrow, after suffering the loss of a leg by slingshot, nearly loses his mate to another male before adapting.

Reed draws parallels to the way animals handle life and the way people could learn from them, but by no means is he as sentimental as other writers for children of the same era. In fact, when the man’s adopted stray cat begins “going to the bad,” killing several birds a day, the man chloroforms it without a sugar-coated euphemism.

In this modern age of effective kitty litter, the man may have been able to keep his cat indoors. However, on other topics he shares a modern birder’s viewpoint. For instance, house sparrows (he calls them English sparrows) are not to be encouraged since they are an invasive species that competes with the natives.

After the twelve chapters of stories about birds, spiders, and other garden neighbors, Reed provides “An Invitation to the Birds.” His admonition against loose cats, red squirrels and house sparrows, and his prescription of tangles of bushes and shrubs, watering places, nesting places and various grains to feed is hardly different from that of modern experts, although, finding hemp seed at the feed store today may be difficult.

Book illustration

Some illustrations are color plates, like this meadowlark. Courtesy

Also at the end of the book are individual species descriptions, including range. This is where I thought I might learn what part of the country Reed gardened. First, I had to translate some of the old-fashioned names. I think “The Snowflake” should be revived for the snow bunting.

Reed mentions some other former names such as Summer Yellowbird (yellow warbler), Myrtlebird (yellow-rumped warbler), Cherry Bird (cedar waxwing), Thistlebird (American goldfinch), Chewink (eastern towhee), Firebird (Baltimore oriole), Blue Canary (indigo bunting) and Yellow-Hammer (northern flicker, yellow-shafted race).

Did you know that Lewis and Clark first collected for science what was originally known as the “Louisiana Tanager”, named for the Louisiana Purchase? Now we call it the western tanager.

Reed lists a couple other western species, but I don’t think he did more than travel through the west because he lists the red-breasted nuthatch, white-breasted nuthatch, brown creeper, yellow-breasted chat, and chipping sparrow as eastern-only species. I’m pretty sure they’ve been breeding in Wyoming and the west more than 100 years.

On the other hand, Reed lists the blue jay as being found in North America in general and we know it is a species still expanding its range into the west, though there are other blue-colored jays already here.

More than the change of bird names and distribution in the last hundred years, what is notably different in Reed’s book from our modern lives is the amount of time “the man” has for nature observation. It is explained, “The man’s health had failed, and the doctors had advised him to live more out of doors. That is how he came to have a garden.”

Perhaps we too should take the doctors’ advice and learn to take time to observe such events as construction of a spider’s web—from start to finish. It may be healthful as well as instructive.

Find gifts for birders

Charley Harper puzzle

Environment for the Americas, the folks who organize International Migratory Bird Day, are offering this Charlie Harper puzzle titled, “Mystery of the Missing Migrants.”

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,

American Birding Association: membership, publications, books, optics, gear, travel

Birder’s World: magazine,

Bird Watcher’s Digest: magazine, bird info, bird festival listings and gear for sale,

Cornell Lab of Ornithology: membership, bird info, Citizen Science projects,

International Migratory Bird Day (Environment for the Americas): education, online store,

National Audubon Society: membership, magazine, research, advocacy, directory of chapters

North American Birds Online: Internet data base,

Thayer Birding: software,

The Nature Conservancy: membership, publications, gear,

Can birds save the world?

The Audubon climate change study shows that by 2080, Black-billed Magpies, a common species in Wyoming, would lose 86 percent of its summer range and 51 percent of its winter range, predictions prove true. Photo courtesy U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

The Audubon climate change study shows that by 2080, Black-billed Magpies, a common species in Wyoming, would lose 86 percent of its summer range and 51 percent of its winter range, if predictions prove true. Photo courtesy U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Published Oct. 26, 2014, in the Wyoming Tribune Eagle, “Can birds save the world?”

By Barb Gorges

Last month, the National Audubon Society publicized the result of a seven-year study to determine what would happen to North American birds if the change in climate continues as predicted.

The startling conclusion is that by 2080, nearly half our bird species, 314 (588 were studied), would have a hard time finding the food and habitat they need. They probably would not adapt, since evolution normally needs more than 65 years. So they could become extinct.

“OK,” some people say, “big deal, I’ve never seen more than three kinds of birds anyway.”

That attitude was prevalent in the 1960s when eagles began producing eggs with shells so thin, the weight of the incubating parent crushed them.

“So what?” people said back then, especially if eagles made them and their lambs nervous.

The culprit was discovered to be DDT. And it was discovered to do nasty things to people as well. So you might say that birds saved the world from DDT (except it continues to be produced to control malaria).

Last month, the Cheyenne – High Plains Audubon Society celebrated its 40th anniversary. John Fitzpatrick, director of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, was keynote speaker at the banquet: “How Birds Can Save the World.”

Fitzpatrick’s premise is that birds are so many species of canaries in the coal mine. Or, to localize the analogy, so many sage-grouse in the oil patch. We should pay attention to what they are trying to tell us, before we hurt ourselves.

The Audubon report makes predictions based on two long-term, continent-wide citizen science efforts: the Christmas Bird Count (begun in 1900) and the Breeding Bird Survey (begun in 1966).

The Cornell Lab of Ornithology itself is well-known for citizen science projects such as Project FeederWatch and the Great Backyard Bird Count. But the one that has mushroomed into a global phenomenon is eBird (

People who enjoy birdwatching have learned over the last 10 years to put just a little extra effort into it by counting birds they see and entering their notes online. Scientists can now see where bird species go and when, as if they have radar running year round. The more people enter observations, the clearer the picture emerges. And population changes are clearer, too.

When bird numbers change, or populations move, it’s due to one or more changes in the species’ environment. Some can be directly attributed to people, such as building a subdivision over a burrowing owl colony, and some indirectly, like climate change causing nectar-producing flowers to bloom too early for migrating hummingbirds.

Back in the 1970s, saving the environment always seemed to mean doing without, like hippies living off the grid. To some extent, curbing our desire for items built with planned obsolescence, like the latest smartphone, would preserve a little more landscape.

But Fitzpatrick’s contention is that we can live smarter, rather than poorer, have our cake and eat it too, have our lifestyle and our birds.

We need creative people. For instance, I read 400,000 acres of California cropland is barren for lack of water this year. Yet power companies are stripping vegetation in the Mohave Desert to build arrays of solar panels. What if farmers rented out those barren fields for temporary solar installations?

There’s work being done on solar paving. Imagine a sunny city like Los Angeles being able to power itself from all its lesser used streets, rather than depending on the transmission of electricity across hundreds of miles.

What if we put as much effort as we put into getting man on the moon into finding ways for every part of the country to produce energy in a way that keeps birds happy and us healthy?

I’m not an engineer, and probably neither are you. There is a shortage of them in this country. How can we raise more engineers and research scientists?

Take kids birdwatching. No, this isn’t exactly one of Fitzpatrick’s fixes. It’s mine.

What are your kids doing on Saturday mornings? Watching cartoons and competing in athletics are all well and good. But what birdwatching does for children, and the rest of us, is to make us ask questions about the birds and their behaviors, to research, to communicate with others, and now, to search the eBird database.

When children develop these habits of curiosity through birds–or other disciplines–they begin to see themselves in the sciences, in engineering, in technology, in all those “hard” subjects. And we will have the creative minds we need.

Our local Audubon chapter, now age 40, will continue with its traditional field trips (open to accompanied children and recorded for eBird, of course), educational meetings and projects, habitat improvements, and conservation advocacy. But watch for those special opportunities to introduce your children, grandchildren or neighbor children to birds. Because birds can save the world.