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Stateside Podcast: Eyes up for spring birding

A photo caption in a previous version of this post misidentified a killdeer as a piping plover. We apologize for the error (especially to our fellow bird lovers!) and have corrected the caption.

It's spring in Michigan and the world is waking up again! The Florida snowbirds are returning from their winter condos in warmer locales, and so are many migratory birds (well, minus the condo part).

Ann Arbor resident April Campbell is not one to be scared off a day of birding by less than ideal weather. But she says that getting outside to see the birds in spring comes with some special perks.

"One of the things that's great about spring birding is honing your birding by ear skills because you can actually place a call or a song with the bird and see it moving its beak," she explained.

Once foliage becomes a denser, it can be hard to confirm whether that song you're hearing belongs to a wren or a sparrow. And while there are beautiful birds to be seen all year round in Michigan (hello blue jays and cardinals!), springtime also marks the return of many migratory species that may breed and/or spend the summer months here. Red-winged blackbirds, great blue herons, common grackles, and yellow-rumped warblers are just a few of the feathered creatures that flock to the state as the days get warmer.

While some birders always have their eye out for the rarest species, Campbell said that there is plenty of joy to be found in observing even the most common birds.

"For instance, the house wren is not rare, but if you observe that bird and watch how it takes care of its babies, and feeds the babies, its behavior is absolutely fascinating."

You don't need much to get started in birding: a good pair of binoculars and some patience should do the trick. There are lots of apps that can help you identify the birds you see—or there's always a trusty old field guide. But Campbell said she recommends spending your time outside actually looking at the birds, and maybe taking some notes about what they look like and where you found them

"Concentrate on the bird's behavior, the habitat you're seeing the bird in, for instance, and their song or call. And then look at your guide later."

When you get home, you can use a birding app or a trusty old field guide to figure out the name of that beautiful duck you saw or the tiny gray bird with yellow patches. Campbell said she often sees new birders getting lost in trying to figure out what bird they're seeing, and by the time they look back up from their phone or field guide, that bird has flown away.

Instead, Campbell said, practice taking those detailed notes and just enjoy taking the time to slow down and observe the world waking up again.

"I always view April, in particular, as a time of rebirth. I'm also a gardener, and that's when you start seeing the buds come back. And the creatures of the planet are determined to come back, and this cycle is as old as the Earth itself. So it reminds me of my place … in the world as well."

Check out the slideshow above for some of the species you might encounter on your spring birding adventures around Michigan.

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April Van Buren is a producer for <i>Stateside</i>. She produces interviews for air as well as web and social media content for the show.