bird lessons

by Kristen

My dad wasn’t an overt lesson teacher when we were kids. Sure there was the “square up” command when miniature golfing or the tips on proper bunting technique in softball, but he was never the “listen up, you’ll thank me for this later” kind of dad. Yet, without trying to, he taught me to pay attention.

Every summer his 1983 edition of National Geographic Society Field Guide to the Birds of North America made the trip with us on vacation.

I loved thumbing through it and discovering the difference between a raptor and a flycatcher. Dad showed me how the size of a bird or its rhythm in the air or the shape of its beak or feet could help classify it. I read range maps to find habitat and migration patterns.

Driving through the central valley my eyes were peeled for hawks perched on fence posts or soaring above the fields. I learned to spot swallows nesting on the sides of overpasses. I watched for red-winged or tricolored blackbirds.

While fishing I came to recognize the “V” pattern on the underside of an osprey’s wings: if I was patient, I could watch it dive and maybe snag a fish in its talons. I loved to spot grebes with their graceful necks showcasing their black topsides and white undersides. Coots were so cute with their chubby bodies and small heads on hardly any neck at all.

Closer to home I scouted for herons and egrets when we drove near the Santa Ana River. And at the beach I was ecstatic if I spotted a sandpiper.

Watching for birds became more fun on road trips than naming the crops or animals in the fields. Birds may be smaller and more elusive, but spotting a Great Blue Heron skimming a marsh is far more exciting than a grazing cow.

I never meant to care about birds, and I’m not sure my dad meant to teach me about them. But I do, and he did. Now when people look at me sideways for my ornithologic knowledge, I smile and say, “My dad taught me.”


This post is part of the 31 Days: Family series. Read the beginning, and see a full index of posts, here.

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