Birdwatching: Who Are You Looking At?

January 8, 2021

How did you kick off the New Year? A walk with family? A movie marathon? A bike ride? Xyza co-founder Joann set a goal to walk at least ten thousand steps with her kids every day between Christmas and New Year’s Day. She’s happy to report that she met her goal and while doing so, found some pretty amazing hidden gems around her neighborhood. These included an art installation in the park, stairs leading up to one of the highest points in San Francisco, and two birds (a great blue heron and a hawk) that call Golden Gate Park home. But it wasn’t just Joann who saw interesting birds flying about. Birds, it seems, recently made special appearances on both coasts of the United States, and humans flocked (pun very much intended!) to see them.

Image of Starling Murmuration
Airwolfhound, CC BY-SA 2.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0>, via Wikimedia Commons

On the West Coast, people living in the San Francisco Bay Area were treated to a starling murmuration (when large groups of starlings fly together in sweeping patterns). It’s not the first time that these birds, who are native to Europe and Asia, have graced Bay Area residents with their massive patterned flights, but it’s still quite a spectacle. According to biologists, the last time a starling murmuration was spotted in the Bay Area was in 2007. Starlings hovered over and swooped in patterns, eventually landing in a graveyard in San Rafael, CA. Wondering where the murmuration took place this time? The same graveyard!

Painted Bunting
Dan Pancamo, CC BY-SA 2.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0>, via Wikimedia Commons

On the East Coast, another bird sighting caused quite a stir. The painted bunting—a small bird with a bright blue head, red body, and other colors of the rainbow decorating its back and wings—was spotted at the Ohio Canal National Historic Park in Maryland. This rare sighting caused quite a stir in the Maryland area, and lines of cars waited to enter the park to see the rainbow-colored bird. After all, seeing a painted bunting in Maryland is uncommon because they are mostly found in the southwest and southeast regions of the United States and later migrate to Mexico, Central America, and the Caribbean. While the sighting was fascinating for those living in the Maryland area, bird experts have expressed concern. Seeing birds where they aren’t often seen is a sign of climate change. Changes in climate cause birds to change migration patterns as well as the range in which they fly during breeding seasons. So yes, it’s great that birdwatchers get to see a kind of bird that they wouldn’t normally spot around the area where they live, but it’s also a sign that planet Earth needs our help.

The next time you’re walking around your neighborhood, take a look and listen to the birds around you? Are they native to your area? What are some non-native birds that you’ve spotted in your neighborhood?