For an aspiring nature writing I am able to identify shamefully few birds. Of course there is an argument to be made for not knowing the names of things. Names are weighted and change the way we think about an object or creature. However, as a writer it is good to be able to tell the reader that I saw a blue tit in the garden this morning, rather than I saw a ‘blue and yellow’ bird, which is what I typed in to Google when I spotted the bird through my binoculars.
I hadn’t been expecting to see it. I’d actually seen what looked like a strange and impressive bird, but which turned out, through my binoculars, to be a rather ragged looking pigeon. I’ve written about my garden in the past and I’ve mentioned the magpies, pigeons and blackbirds that inhabit it, but I’ve always thought it was lacking in anything more exciting than that. It would seem the problem is that I haven’t been looking closely enough. Without the binoculars I was unable to distinguish the blue tit in amongst the leaves, but as I looked at my garden and the surrounding gardens through the binoculars I began to see a whole world of movement and life that I hadn’t seen before.
I watched the blue tit for a while as it flitted from branch to branch. Knowing its name did seem to change how I thought about it. Being able to say ‘there is a blue tit’ made me feel a sense of familiarity with the bird. In a way I suppose it isn’t much different to humans. Knowing someone’s name suggests at least a passing acquaintance, and without knowing someone’s name it is difficult to form anything resembling a friendship. Names change the way we think and although this might have a negative effect, it can also be a positive thing. Names give shape to things and allow us to talk about them.
As I watched the blue tit I noticed two other birds nearby. They were slightly larger than the blue tit and had black and white feathers and long, wagging tails. I Googled this description and after a short while determined that they were pied wagtails. I was starting to feel quite impressed with myself at this point, in just a few minutes I had spotted and learnt the names of two birds.
As well as looking at images of the birds I also found recordings of their song. When I’m sat at my desk – and especially in warmer weather when I have the window open – I like to listen to the sounds of bird song from outside. It’s something that never fails to make me feel happy. I’m hoping in future, and with a bit more practise, I’ll be able to tell which birds are making those cheering sounds. In all though I feel I’ve had a productive bird spotting day and I’m glad I’ve started to rectify something I’ve been too remiss about for a long time – learning the names of birds.
Photo used under Creative Commons from Sergey Yeliseev.