Talkin' Birds: Urban Birding

Sep 2, 2017
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Time now for Talkin' Birds.


UNIDENTIFIED SINGERS: (Singing) Tweedly-deedly-dee (ph).

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: A bird show - I like that. I love birds.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Ray Brown's Talkin' Birds.


STEVE MILLER BAND: (Singing) I want to fly like an eagle.

SIMON: Ray Brown, host of radio show and podcast Talkin Birds, can spot winged wonders, even in the urban jungle. He joins us now from the bustling city of Boston. Ray, good to talk to you again.

RAY BROWN: Great to talk to you again, Scott. Thanks.

SIMON: Urban birding - it's not just pigeons, huh (ph)?

BROWN: (Laughter) I was going to say, yes, pigeons. But no, it is more than pigeons - a lot more. I mean, people even come into the city, Scott, to look at birds. So that tells you something right there, I think.

SIMON: Well, why are there so many birds in the city because there's so much food?

BROWN: Well, there are a number of reasons. One of the big reasons - certainly, at migration time, you know, birds are on their migration routes and that often takes them over cities. So green spaces like Central Park in New York, Public Garden here in Boston and similar places around the country really call out to them as places to rest and to feed and, in many cases, to nest.

SIMON: Now, you recently did a show from Governors Island in New York.

BROWN: That's right, yeah, right in New York Harbor there. What an amazing place it is, you know? As I'm sure you know, Scott, it's like 800 yards from the southern tip of Manhattan and I think 400 yards from Brooklyn. And they started a common tern nesting program. A lot of the island has been reclaimed from old uses as landfill and so on. And they've got a beautiful area of walking trails and wild flowers, so lots of birds there. And as I mentioned, on some of the old piers, they're actually breeding common terns and quite successfully.

SIMON: You mean the common terns are breeding themselves.

BROWN: They are doing most of the work. But they're being overseen by the humans.

SIMON: What does a city dweller who'd like to be a birder - I can't believe I'm asking a question like this - what do they need to get involved?

BROWN: To get involved, it doesn't require a lot. A pair of binoculars is certainly a good idea for sure, pretty much a requisite, I would say. A spotting scope is really great if you're going to look for shore birds and other birds you might be seeing from a greater distance. A field guide - there are a zillion of those from which to choose. So you can pick one you just happen to like. Lots of apps for your smartphone that can do the same thing.

And I always think the best thing of all to do is to join up with one of the birding clubs. You know, here in Boston, we have a club called the Brookline Birding Club. We have over a thousand members. And they do bird walks almost every day of the year. And it's easy to join up with them.

And there are organizations like that all over the country. You can join up with them. You can go on the walks for free in most cases and really learn from people who know the birds and know the areas.

SIMON: Our family has a pair of binoculars. We use them to look at the people across the way.

BROWN: Yeah. That's what most people - the birders do. I have to tell you there...

SIMON: (Laughter).

BROWN: There actually was a birder - and he's a very dedicated birder - who was birding up north of the city a few years ago. And he was doing it in the wintertime. And he was looking at a cross - across the marsh and, of course, there are houses on the other side. And somebody called the authorities and thought he was a peeping tom. And maybe he was, but he was also a birdwatcher. And apparently, the police said, well, you know, there are no birds in the wintertime so you better come with us.

SIMON: (Laughter) That was the tip off - wasn't it? - come to think of it.

BROWN: Yeah, exactly.

SIMON: Ray Brown, host of Talkin' Birds, thanks so much.

BROWN: Thank you, Scott.

(SOUNDBITE OF BOBBY DAY'S "ROCKIN' ROBIN") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.