Find More Birds: Recipes for Birding Success
Find More Birds: 111 Surprising Ways to Spot Birds Wherever You Are by Heather Wolf
FIND MORE BIRDS: RECIPES FOR BIRDING SUCCESS
A review of Find More Birds: 111 Surprising Ways to Spot Birds Wherever You Are by Heather Wolf (The Experiment Publishing, 2023). This review is a digital-only story from the Fall 2023 issue of The Urban Audubon.
By Suzanne Charlé
Just in time for the heights of fall migration comes this fine road map for birders—newbies or experienced. Writer Heather Wolf, who works for the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology, offers up many bird-finding “recipes” for birding success, organized by different levels of birding skill. She covers 111 “ingredients” ranging from “Bird-Finding Basics” to “Advanced Bird-Finding.”
Here’s one recipe she offers:
- Head out after a storm (#104)
- Change your route (#14)
- Check freshwater sources, even drips (#3)
- Look for movement (#2)
In Chapter 1, Wolf begins with the basic ingredients—30 of them, to be exact. Sound, she underscores, is the single most important cue to finding birds, whether it be their songs or screams, like the cheerful tune of a Song Sparrow or the mobbing calls of grackles. She suggests we “Scan the Sky” or “Take a Seat”—which is how she once spotted a secretive Lincoln’s Sparrow on a lawn’s edge—and to equally be on the lookout while “Doing Something Else,” like watching your step on a beach, practicing yoga, or taking a ferry ride. New birds can also be discovered “Through the Community,” with a special shoutout to “Join a local Audubon chapter”!
You can find birds “At Their Favorite Restaurants,” hopping and scratching in leaves, or searching for seeds in tall, dried grasses, where migrating sparrows and buntings stop for a meal. Or they may visit berry buffets: trees and shrubs full of berries that attract waxwings, catbirds, thrushes, and many more.
Moving towards more advanced techniques, Wolf notes that birds leave many “Clues”: cavities in trees and buildings, just right for nests of tree swallows, woodpecker, owls, and others. Bird Poop is a dead giveaway for herons, egrets, and cormorants.
“I never thought I’d be spending time trying to get the perfect photograph of bird poop,” Wolf admits. “But birding changes you.”
Wolf’s engaging writing is supported by her handsome photographs, which reveal what her clever tips can deliver: a Hooded Merganser surfacing with a crustacean in the Central Park reservoir; a silhouette of a Belted Kingfisher with the background of a Manhattan skyscraper; even the digested artwork of a Double-crested Cormorant left behind on a tennis court.
Wolf ends her book with a wish: “As your bird story unfolds, I hope new dreams surface…. One of mine was to see a Resplendent Quetzal, and it came true in the winter of 2023 in Costa Rica.” But there is no need to go so far: much of the thrill is “that we never know what might come next… finding a mega-rare bird in our backyard [or] seeing a crow clamming when all the trash cans are covered in snow.”
Wolf, who lives in Brooklyn, notes that she frequently visits Brooklyn Bridge Park; it’s her “patch,” close to home—as well as the subject of her first book, Birding at the Bridge. While Wolf’s Find More Birds is for all birders, we New Yorkers are especially privileged since many of her suggestions for spotting birds come from sites right here in the city. Read, enjoy, and discover.
Join Heather Wolf at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden, where she leads birding walks and classes, and refer to our “Birding in Brooklyn Botanic Garden” guide for extra tips and tricks!