Local

Birding Offers An Escape In Your Own Backyard

A Yellow Rumped Warbler sits on a branch in Louisiana. For this springtime migration, Ward is looking for warblers, describing them as jewels that just migrated here from South America.
A Yellow Rumped Warbler sits on a branch in Louisiana. For this springtime migration, Ward is looking for warblers, describing them as jewels that just migrated here from South America.
Credit Sean Gardner / Associated Press

One way to take advantage of your own backyard during the pandemic is to get to know your local birds. “City Lights” host Lois Reitzes spoke with Atlanta-based birder and host of the web series “Birds of North America,” Jason Ward.

Ward first became interested in birding while growing up in the Bronx in New York City. One day he saw a peregrine falcon eating a pigeon outside his window, and he was hooked.

“Seeing something that would have everyone else run away screaming, you know, from the sight of, I was just entranced by what was what was going on in front of me,” Ward said.

Since that day, birding has become a way to step back and appreciate what is happening around you, even when stuck in Atlanta’s infamous gridlock.

“I remember sitting in bumper-to-bumper traffic one day, and usually that, you know, sends people in a fit of rage. But I noticed that there were these barn swallows that are just flying around everyone’s vehicles catching insects in the air,” Ward said.

Having lived in Atlanta for 12 years, Ward has had lots of opportunity to get to know the city’s birding scene, in addition to its bad traffic. He said the birding scene is robust thanks to the city’s tree canopy.

For those looking to start birding, the barrier to entry is pretty low.

“You’ll need eyes, ears and curiosity. That’s it. You’ll utilize these tools to really immerse yourself in a world that has always existed, and now you’re able to peel back a layer and the language that a lot of other people,” Ward said.

Ward said that from the end of March until mid- to late-May, birds are migrating North through the Atlanta area, and they mostly do it at night.

“When we wake up, it’s like we’ve shaken a snow globe, and there are a new assortment of birds that are in our area,” Ward said.

For this springtime migration, Ward is looking for warblers, describing them as jewels that just migrated here from South America. Other birds moving through in the spring include tanagers, grosbeaks and swallows.

In addition to sharing his love for birds with the world at large, as a black man who is also a birder, Ward is seeking to introduce more diversity into birding.

“When you turn on National Geographic or Animal Planet or Discovery, you may not see people of color hosting some of their shows. So there’s this belief that those activities aren’t for us, because we don’t see representation of ourselves doing those activities,” said Ward.

Ward said he is using the power of social media to help with that goal. Additionally, he is bringing representation to birding as host of Topic’s “Birds of North America” web series.

The show takes Ward all across North America, meeting fellow birders and sharing his love of birds with celebrities like Wyatt Cenac.

As for birding during the pandemic, Ward suggests doing so safely by avoiding parks at peak times and finding less popular places, making it easier to practice social distancing.