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House finch.
House finch.
Western meadowlark.
Western meadowlark.
Marbled godwit.
Marbled godwit.
Eastern bluebird.
Eastern bluebird.
Great blue heron.
Great blue heron.
Downy woodpecker.
Downy woodpecker.
Western meadowlark.
Western meadowlark.
Hudsonian godwits.
Hudsonian godwits.

Why We Go Birding

I have noticed that people may not understand what I'm doing when I go birding. They sometimes think that I'm going just to look at pretty birds. That’s true, but there is more to it for birders like me.

Searching for Different Species

When migration begins, I want to see the different birds that pass through because they’re only in our area during part of the spring and fall. A bird that’s new to our area or an early arrival would be nice to see. A rare bird would be great. If a birder sees an interesting or rare bird, it is reported to an email listserv so that other birders may go see it, too. If it is indeed a rare bird, I record what I observe and try to get a photo and/or video. My detailed report goes to a committee of the state ornithological union. If they decide I was correct in my identification, it will be entered into the state birding records. It is very gratifying for a birder to find a rare bird and have the report accepted.

Adding to My List

Birders like me keep many different lists: yard, patch, town, state, year, counties and life lists. I am very list-motivated, so I enjoy searching for different birds to add. It’s like a game for birders. The South Dakota Ornithologists’ Union website lists the top birders in the state, which is another fun goal to try to achieve.

Citizen Science

I keep a list of the birds I see and note certain details: date, place, time of day, duration, species and quantity. I also note breeding codes, such as whether a bird is nest-building, on the nest, carrying food or nesting material, feeding young, etc. It is work to get this information collected and put onto the database, but it is a great feeling to help with citizen science and know that you are contributing to conservation.

Later I put all of this information onto eBird. Launched in 2002 by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and National Audubon Society, eBird shares these observations with a global community of educators, land managers, ornithologists and conservation biologists. Also, eBird keeps track of birders’ lists, so that is very handy for us. At the end of each reporting season, we can have our eBird information sent directly to the state database, so it will be part of our state's birding records as well. In this way, birders are helping science by collecting data for state and global databases.

Birding is Fun

Birding is fun whether you keep lists or just observe birds. When I go birding I get exercise while hiking, yet it is very relaxing. I see wonderful places, wild animals and beautiful wildflowers, as well as birds. I enjoy seeing the variety birds, watching their behavior and listening to them sing. Birding with other birders is also enjoyable, and it is nice to spend time with like-minded people.

While concentrating on bird songs and bird identification, my troubles and worries melt away. My husband often tells people how happy I am when I return from birding. He is right. I am so thankful that I went to my first birding festival four years ago and that I was turned on to birding. This year’s South Dakota Birding Festival at Fort Randall will be May 1-3 at Pickstown. A new gathering, the Prairie Birding Festival, will be in Mitchell on May 8-10. More information is available online. You may want to come and check out these festivals for yourself.

Birding is a fulfilling activity and is enjoyed in varying degrees by different birders. I wish everyone could get outdoors more often to experience all that nature has to offer. Until then I will do my best to get people interested, so that they can feel the same joy that I have felt.

Kelly Preheim is a South Dakota Ornithologists' Union board member. She teaches kindergarten at Armour Elementary, where she incorporates lessons on birding into the classroom. Her students have been recognized nationally for their knowledge of birds. Visit Preheim’s Flickr site to see photos from her birding adventures.


01:04 pm - Wed, April 29 2015
Rebecca said:
Great photos!
01:40 pm - Wed, April 29 2015
Christian said:
Nice article Kelly! I've been out looking and listening more than ever this spring. As a photographer, birding adds another dimension of interesting things to photograph in South Dakota (and getting a good shot is a large challenge in itself). Once you get started on this hobby, it can be quite addicting!
06:38 pm - Wed, April 29 2015
Great article. You really nail some of the things that make birding so attractive to so many.
10:01 pm - Wed, April 29 2015
Cheryl said:
Well said, Kelly! You spoke for many of us!
07:25 am - Thu, April 30 2015
Kristen said:
Beautiful photos and great article! We are sure lucky to have such a kind and talented birder here at our school to share knowledge and excitement about nature! You're the best!
12:27 pm - Thu, April 30 2015
Michaeleneadams said:
excellent Kelly! So proud of you and happy for all the peace you find!
12:27 pm - Thu, April 30 2015
Michaeleneadams said:
excellent Kelly! So proud of you and happy for all the peace you find!
03:50 pm - Thu, April 30 2015
Sharel said:
so proud of you Kelly, you write so well and explain things we can understand. Was at the river a few days and said I need Kelly to come help me identify some of these birds!
08:11 pm - Thu, April 30 2015
Kelly Preheim said:
Wow! Thank you for the kind words everybody! I have found that I love to take photos of birds and teach others about them, so I am combining three things that I really enjoy! I am told that birding hasn't really caught on in South Dakota yet, but on the east and west coasts it is very popular. We see quite a variety of birds in our state. Once you begin noticing them, you will become more aware. I see that with my kindergarten students, but that is another story!
07:52 am - Fri, May 1 2015
Sandra Jensen said:
Great article, Kelly!
08:09 am - Fri, May 1 2015
Miranda said:
Wow, love your photos! You've inspired me to learn more about birding. Thank you!
06:13 am - Tue, May 5 2015
phil & maryann kester said:
We received a lesson on your site with the bird picture and I finally found this comment site......not being computer literate by any means this gave me a great deal of pride to say the least. We have many various birds in the grove behind our home and it is a joy to watch them every morning and all day long with a combination of squirrels, birds and rabbits which come to feed.....this morning was a greater joy when I found this site and the pictures at the top which showed and gave names to my personal favorite birds. This of course is bringing a new ingredient to both of us. My wife is the feeder of our family which extends from our three kids (dogs) and all those ceatures on the acreage. Thank You for bringing so much joy to those who grow to read and admire your work.........Bless You

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