In June, we had the delightful experience of hearing ornithologist David Allen Sibley address members of the Outdoor Writer’s Association of America. Following his talk, he chatted with us about his career, birds, and how people can best attract and enjoy birds in their yard.
Mr. Sibley is an ornithologist, artist, and writer who created the acclaimed SIBLEY GUIDE TO BIRDS, SIBLEY GUIDE TO BIRD LIFE AND BEHAVIOR, and SIBLEY GUIDE TO TREES. All are beautifully illustrated with his detailed and amazingly accurate paintings. Field guides have been around for decades and identification can become confusing because some species look slightly different in varied parts of the range. So, what makes his books so useful is the series of paintings of each species. Also, young birds often look different than their parents. To help identify them the Sibley guide shows plumage variations within a species.
The SIBLEY GUIDE TO BIRDS is designed to help identify species. It’s companion, THE SIBLEY GUIDE TO BIRD LIFE AND BEHAVIOR, provides detailed information about each species. The SIBLEY GUIDE TO TREES helps identify and learn about tree species. Additionally, Sibley has illustrated a number of other guide books and Bright Wings: An Illustrated Anthology of Poems About Birds, by Billy Collins.
In the interview, Sibley shared that birds “blur the boundary of wildness.” They come and go in our lives whereas trees are integral. “They are part of nature that is part of our lives.”
David Allen Sibley’s father was a noted ornithologist who, although he didn’t push his son to follow in his footsteps, often brought his young son on outings. “I always had a good time tagging along with my father and learned a lot by rambling about, turning over logs to see what was underneath them and just exploring,” he said. Then, he started drawing sketches of birds which he showed us. The progression of skill from black and white drawings he did as a kid to the colorful paintings as a professional is remarkable.
Sibley’s interest has evolved over the decades. Initially the excitement was the challenge of finding a bird and drawing it. The hunt, if you will. The field guides shifted his attention to the academics – how birds are similar and different. Now, with these projects completed, his attention has turned to the wondering phrase: What do birds do? How do they survive all the amazing things they do?
When we asked him, what people can do to encourage kids’ awareness of nature and make their yards a better place for a diversity of species he thoughtfully reflected. “Just provide opportunities to get the kids outside to mess around, to get comfortable being outside,” he noted. “Leaving even a small area wild, maybe the edge of a yard, will help increase habitat diversity. Encouraging brush or tall grass may attract a song sparrow that wouldn’t visit a totally mowed and clipped yard. Seeing an unusual and interesting bird in the back yard might spark a child to pursue a nature-related career or hobby,” he added.
We broached the topic of outdoor pests like ticks and mosquitoes tat so freak out urbanites. “Our risk assessment is skewed,” he stated. “It’s like shark attacks, those fears are over emphasized,” he added. The uptake is, be aware, take precautions by wearing appropriate clothing, use repellent and do a check when you return and throw clothes in the laundry.
Meeting David Allen Sibley was a thrill. We can’t imagine being without his books and were delighted to learn that as a child rambling about in nature led to his distinguished career. Most children won’t grow up to be artists or ornithologists, but a wondrous diverse and healthy back yard will inspire them to enjoy the outdoors and appreciate the amazing wild creatures that live there.
David Allen Sibley’s books are widely available online and in most bookstores. He recently has been involved in developing a new way to identify both birds and bats by sound. Called Song Sleuth, the phone app identifies bird song. A somewhat similar Echo Meter Touch bat app uses an ultrasonic microphone that picks up the echolocation of flying bats and identifies them by species.
For information check out the following:
Song Sleuth: www.songsleuth.com
Echo Meter Touch bat app: www.echometertouch.com
Winding Pathways has no formal affiliation with David Allen Sibley, his books, or the phone apps noted in this blog. We posted this because Mr. Sibley and his books and apps have helped us learn about the wondrous birds and trees in and around our yard.