By: The Crown Editor | February 13, 2023
By Abby Ciona
Canada geese march down the sidewalks outside Augustine Hall, blue jays scream outside the dorm townhouses early in the morning, and black-capped chickadees play at the bird feeder outside the library window, distracting studying students. Whether you are scared of them or annoyed by them, ignore them or love them, birds are everywhere we go—even around the campus of a small Southern Ontario Christian university. The property’s ecological diversity with ponds, forests, gardens, fields, marshes, and creeks shows itself in the variety of birds: sparrows, warblers, hawks, herons, hummingbirds, woodpeckers, swallows, vireos, and more.
Hamilton is not the first place that comes to mind when one mentions “biological diversity;” that phrase is usually reserved to describe untouched wilderness and tropical jungles. However, according to eBird, an international database of bird counts, 371 species of birds have been observed in the Hamilton area, more than half of the 688 species reported in Canada (eBird 2023b). The city’s variety of environments host everything from migrating waterfowl on Hamilton Harbour to flycatchers at the Royal Botanical Gardens to peregrine falcons nesting atop a downtown hotel. As of January 2022, among the 370 species in Hamilton, 113 have been spotted at Redeemer University and reported by birdwatcher students, staff, and visitors who use eBird (eBird 2023a). That means that almost a third of all bird species spotted in Hamilton have been represented in our 86-acre campus!
Birds are beautiful and entertaining to watch, but they also play an important role in our ecosystems. Birds Canada calls them “environmental indicators” which allow “us to understand the overall health of our ecosystems and the environment” (Birds Canada 2023). In learning about birds, we learn how to better care for all creation.
Besides enabling us to understand the natural world and better care for it, birdwatching is a valuable way to exercise our minds and bodies. Countless studies report that birdwatching and spending time outdoors benefit our mental and physical health. It can reduce stress, strengthen focus, and improve mood in people with depression and anxiety (Adams 2019). Birding is also fun: even in our own backyards, there are always new birds to discover, and adding new species to a “life list” is a bit like a collection. Avid birders even participate in competitions like “The World Series of Birding” to see how many species they can spot in a set amount of time.
One could even argue that birding is biblical; birds are named hundreds of times in the Bible, even by Jesus! “Look at the birds of the air,” Jesus advises in Matthew 6:26. “They do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?” (NIV). Jesus’ use of birds in his teachings is a beautiful reminder of his love and care for even the smallest details of his creation. Studying God’s creation teaches us more about him and helps us grow in our trust and faith.
You do not need to be a science student to get involved in bird conservation efforts. To learn more about local birds, check out Birds Canada (https://www.birdscanada.org/) or eBird Canada (https://ebird.org/canada/home). If you are interested in trying birding but do not know where to start, the Audubon Bird Guide App and the Merlin Bird ID app are helpful resources at any stage of bird expertise. The Audubon Bird Guide is an accessible digital field guide for North American birds. Merlin Bird ID is a powerful digital tool from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology that identifies thousands of species from around the world and finds popular birdwatching “hotspot” locations near you. It even can use an audio recording or photo to help identify a bird.
The next time you step outside to walk to class, look up and watch and listen closely; you never know what you might discover!