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Doug Leier: While you wait, try some birding

Most hunters and anglers go through periods of down time when their favorite season is closed, or the boat or ice fishing equipment goes into storage for several months. Mid-summer is such a time for hunters, while open-water anglers sit on the s...

Most hunters and anglers go through periods of down time when their favorite season is closed, or the boat or ice fishing equipment goes into storage for several months. Mid-summer is such a time for hunters, while open-water anglers sit on the sidelines during winter.

It's not difficult to find related activities such as sporting clays and trap shooting in the months between hunting seasons, or watching fishing shows when lakes are frozen, but actual participation must cease, at least for a while.

Perhaps that's why birding, or wildlife watching, continues to gain popularity. Wildlife viewing, either as a planned activity or a random occurrence, is open 365 days a year.

Most people appreciate wildlife simply for its existence, whether it's an angler marveling at a flock of pelicans circling overhead, a motorist pointing out a deer in a field to a passenger, a hunter chuckling

at the spectacle of a muskrat trying to navigate through a cluster of duck decoys, or a bird-feeder wondering which of North Dakota's 13 sparrow species is perched on a branch outside the window.


While nearly everybody enjoys seeing wildlife, more and more enthusiasts are making wildlife viewing, particularly for birds, a more focused quest. It's an outdoor activity that's always in season, in any weather.

The cornerstone of "birding" is keeping track of species observed. Some birders make their hobby a year-long mission to record as many kinds of birds as possible. Put all the species from each year together and you have what's referred to as a life list.

Armed with a bird identification book and binoculars, it's pretty easy to start crossing dozens of species off a list. But North Dakota has more than 300 kinds of birds that either live in or migrate through the state and for someone to check off the last hundred or so requires considerable time, travel and effort during all seasons. And yet, more and more people are trying to do this, not only with home-state lists, but regional and national lists as well.

To get started in birding, however, doesn't require a great investment. The basic element is a bird book so you can identify species with which you are not familiar. Many types of these books are available at book stores and other outlets.

A checklist of all North Dakota birds is available by calling or writing the North Dakota Game and Fish Department, or printing the list from the Department's website at discovernd.com/gnf and clicking on the Watchable Wildlife tab on the home page.

A logical extension to recording bird sightings is creating an environment to bring birds to you, such as a backyard feeding station. A quick survey of urban and rural back yards indicates this activity is already popular, and getting started is as easy as creating a bird feeder from an old milk carton and filling it with black oil sunflower seeds. This method will draw a variety of song birds in to closer to viewing distances at all times of year.

By the time you've listed most of the birds around the home front, you'll know whether you're interested enough to pursue other birds that might require more effort. Like most recreation, some people are casual participants, others are serious devotees, but the only way to find out if you like something is to try it.

In addition to the bird checklist, the game and fish department offers several free publications useful for birders of all levels, from "Attracting Wildlife to Your Back Yard" to more specific topics such as "Backyard Bird Feeding;" to educational publications that reference common North Dakota shorebirds, raptors, endangered species, songbirds and others.


These and other publications are described on the game and fish website and can be ordered from the department's Bismarck office at 100 N. Bismarck Expressway, Bismarck, ND 58501; 701-328-6300.

Game and Fish also periodically publishes a Watchable Wildlife newsletter that contains news of importance for bird enthusiasts. This newsletter is also free; call, write or email the department at to sign up.

As with many personal interests, there's never enough time to do everything, but wildlife watching doesn't have to be time consuming. It can even be a pleasant diversion while you're watering the garden or mowing the lawn. That's likely another reason why it's becoming so popular.

Leier, a biologist for the North Dakota Game and Fish Department in West Fargo, can be reached at (701) 277-0719 or at dleier@state.nd.us

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