Pull over, I need a better look at that bird!

If I am ever a passenger in your car, expect me to yell at you to pullover when wildlife catches my eye. This past Sunday, I did that to a non-expectant driver as we made our way south on Highway 114. I caught a glimpse of what I thought was a super rare bird for the Dallas area and quickly begged the driver to pull over for a closer look. Unfortunately, my relentless pleas went unnoticed, and I missed the opportunity. I’m easily distracted by what wildlife lives around us, especially since this is becoming the perfect time of the year for quality sightings. 

When the weather turns colder, it becomes easier to view wildlife. Without leaves on the trees, your eyes can travel farther and notice slighter color differences. The crisp, cool air is a better sound conductor; giving you a sharper ear to hear rustles in the grass or a birds’ song more clear. Sundays and the holidays are great days for wildlife viewing, as animals are more active when less people are.

The trouble is, you have to turn your mind on to look and listen for what’s around us. I can walk the Katy Trail with headphones on jamming out to my music and not see a single bird unless it slams me in the face. But when I take out my headphones and pay attention, the woodpeckers are hilarious to watch dive bomb through the trees.

Next time you’re outside around the city, listen in and take a second to see what’s around you. The city isn’t just home to rock doves (aka pigeons), but we also share our city with a healthy variety of bird species just outside your back door. The thousands of birds in the area are important for our ecosystem as pollinators, seed dispersers, pest management and nature’s recyclers. Understanding bird populations across their range monitors biological trends that support decisions to protect the environment. 

First we need the data. Scientists can’t be everywhere at the same time and have come up with a solution that involves relying on us to take data for them. That means you in your own backyard can contribute scientific data that helps track abundance and distributions of bird species.

It’s called citizen science, and it’s a growing scientific tool that utilizes the general public to identify and record what they see and report it to scientists. There are thousands of projects you as an individual, your child’s class or group can get involved in from a cloud project that helps scientists georeference what they are actually seeing on their models to a plant bud project, which tracks seasonal changes in plants. 

One of the founding citizen science projects is Feeder Watch: a project that started in the 1970s in Canada to identify winter ranges of birds. FeederWatch.org has grown to include all of North America and has become a proven tool for monitoring the distribution and abundance of winter bird populations. 

Feeder Watch 2014-15 began just a few weeks ago and runs through April. You can participate for as few or as many days as you’d like. It’s a great way to force yourself to take a second, take out the headphones and focus on your surroundings. The participant list has several dots around the DFW area but none in our Katy Trail Weekly area. If you live downtown, don’t think you’re out of bird luck, I’ve seen two red tailed hawks hanging out near the convention center overpass. You can find out if they are nesting for us! 

If you are looking for a little variety in your birds, Chris Jackson from dfwurbanwildlife.com suggests hitting some birding hotspots in the area such as, “White Rock Lake, the Village Creek Drying Beds and John Bunker Sands come to mind first as great places to bird in the winter, but rare waterfowl can show up at any lake or pond around the metroplex.”

It probably was not the super rare snowy owl that I caught a glimpse of speeding down the highway this past Sunday. You may not find the snowy owl either, but you will begin to marvel at the deep blue hue of the bluebirds, be creatively inspired or help out science! 

“We never noticed the beauty because we were too busy trying to create it.” — Unknown  

As seen in the Katy Trail Weekly. 

A picture I snapped of a red tailed hawk in downtown Dallas:

red tailed hawk

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