'Look Up!' Shares Tips On How To Bird-Watch In Your Own Backyard

May 17, 2019

Most of us see birds every day — it might be a pigeon shuffling down the sidewalk or a robin hopping past the yard — but few of us take much notice of them. A new book is hoping to change that and make bird-watching a bit more accessible.

Penguin Random House publishing

Annette LeBlanc Cate is the author of a new children’s book, called Look Up!: Bird-Watching In Your Own Backyard. She spoke with Lake Effect’s Joy Powers and explains her own journey from a passive bird-viewer to a full-on birder.  

As an animator for a television show, LeBlanc Cate spends long hours staring at a computer. She pushed herself to spend more time outdoors and while doing that, she began to see a lot of birds. 

"I started noticing that there’s one kind of sparrow that has spots, and another had stripes, and I had no idea," LeBlanc Cate says. "I felt like there was this whole other world that was right under my nose that I had never even seen before."

As summer approaches, bird-watching can be a great way for kids to get outside, have fun, and learn more about the environment. 

"Kids are very observant, and they see things that grown-ups don’t notice, and they’re really good at seeing the little things," LeBlanc Cate says.

Here are some of her tips for how to bird-watch in your own back yard. Spoiler alert: no fancy binoculars required.  

Observe with all your senses, and take detailed notes.

"So much about birding is noticing little things that are different between one bird and another bird," LaBlanc Cate says.

It's easier than you might think. All you have to do is pay extra attention to what's around you. Look up in the branches, or down in the bushes. Take note of the colors of birds, the shape of their bodies, the way they move or relate to other birds, and any other interesting details, and make sure to listen to the sounds they make! Writing down the details will help you realize the complexity of animals we often overlook.

An expertly drawn pigeon.
Credit Gabriel Figueiredo / Flickr

Bring a sketchbook and pencil.

You don’t have to be an artist, but drawing what you see will boost your observational skills and make bird-watching more illuminating, LaBlanc Cate says.

“If you have a sketchbook and you’re taking notes, it’s kind of like a way to pay extra attention,” she explains. “If you actually try to draw things that you see, it reinforces what you’re looking at … and changes how you see it.”

Get a field guide.

Once your curiosity is piqued, a field guide will help you be able to identify and name different types of birds. Many guides will also provide more information about each species.

Get creative!

Maybe wake up early, or go for a walk in the evening to have a new kind of bird-watching experience. Notice the different birds you see at different times of day or in different types of surroundings. Birds may pop up in unexpected places!

"It can be anywhere," LaBlanc Cate explains. "You can look out the window of your office building and see a falcon. Being ready for it and being open to seeing things is the biggest part of it."

Annette LeBlanc Cate is sharing more tips and tricks at Boswell Books at 6:30 p.m. on Friday, May 17. The event is free and open to the public.