COVID-19 has changed everything for me. It has been one of the rare moments in my adult life where I have had a second to breathe and reassess everything. I’ve reconnected with family and friends, started eating better, bought a bike and lost 12 lbs. However, there was one reconnection that meant the most to me.
I became a birder on my ninth birthday. My mom gave me a pair of binoculars, a bird book and put a bird feeder in front of my window. After that, much of my childhood was spent with my eyes fixed on the feeder, hoping that a bird I had never seen before would show up for me to ID.
As I got older, I moved away from birding. Mainly because I was trying to shed the things I thought made me nerdy, and I may have dropped my binoculars one too many times. When I went to college at Ohio State University, I majored in Fisheries and Wildlife Management. After taking an Ornithology class, I finally came to my senses and realized that birding was cool, for a select group of people. I joined the Ornithology club and went on trips to birding hotspots throughout the Midwest. When I graduated, my pursuit of a career in avian biology (although unsuccessful) took me to Hawaii, Oregon and New York.
Eventually, I traded in birds for plants after finding stable employment in Hilo, Hawai’i. After adding all the living native species to my life list, I lost my fervor for birding there. It was depressing to know how many birds went extinct after European contact, and the ones that still exist are at risk of extinction due to declining habitat and introduced avian malaria. Most of all, I just missed not knowing which birds you might see.
Long story short, I found my way back to Houston after learning my mom was terminally ill. Once the dust settled, COVID hit.
In the last few months, I have started going birding again. It is once again exciting, and the perfect social distancing activity. I feel the need to venture farther and farther out of the city to see a greater variety of species. I feel true to myself but, most of all, I feel like am honoring the one who put the binoculars in my hands: my mom.
By Royce Daniels
(The birds in the photos are being handled for research purposes.)