Talking Birds and Their Survival in Winter at Rogers Memorial Library

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A snowy owl photographed by Evan Marks.

Birding, to those in the know, is more than just a hobby. “I call it a lifestyle,” said Frank Quevedo, executive director of the South Fork Natural History Museum and Nature Center. On February 6, Mr. Quevedo will lead a lecture and bird walk at Rogers Memorial Library, in which he will have ample opportunity to discuss his passion for birding.

Mr. Quevedo’s relationship with birding spans back decades. “I took ornithology when I was achieving my marine biology degree,” he said. “I got very hooked on birding, but what really got me hooked was I took a Christmas bird count. We were counting owls in the morning, and we had owls flying all around us. There were these eastern screech owls that we were following at five in the morning, and they were just everywhere.”

Bird counting is a method by which birders can monitor bird health, including environmental trends and potential problems. Acquired data can be shared nationwide to help assess bird populations. Environmentalists regard bird population health as the predictor for other environmental issues. Dwindling bird populations — or, conversely, healthy, abundant populations — can indicate the quality of the environment at large. Bird count data is eventually sent to the Fish and Wildlife Service, the National Park Service, and the Bureau of Land Management.

Before his eight-year-long tenure at the South Fork Natural History Museum, Mr. Quevedo attended Long Island University’s Southampton College, where he graduated with a degree in marine biology. Following graduation, he worked for over a decade as a bay management specialist for East Hampton Town’s shellfish restoration project. “Since then, as the director [of the museum], I lead many bird walks throughout the year. All different birds, all different habitats.” Winter bird walks, which Mr. Quevedo conducts with some regularity through the museum, focus on both migrating and non-migrating birds.

For his upcoming lecture and bird walk, Mr. Quevedo will focus on birds local to eastern Long Island. “What I’ll be talking about is wintering birds and how they survive,” he said. “I’m going to be talking about their endothermic ability, what they do to adapt to these extreme conditions. They have extra feathers to adapt”

Mr. Quevedo describes his passion for birding a “rewarding” lifestyle, but, in fact, birding is far more than just that. Birds remain a central part of a functioning ecosystem, where they assist in pollination, insect control, seed dispersion, and germination. The plants that grow as a result of bird intervention are responsible for the foods we eat, the clothes we wear, the medicines that cure us, and the homes we build. And so, in today’s jeopardized environment — roughly 11 percent of the world’s species are at risk — we may be standing on the precipice of a very different world. In the past 50 years, backyard bird populations have declined by 70 percent, which is largely the result of habitat loss. As humans build homes, and clear land, and develop slices of the world that remain owned by the animal kingdom, bird lives disappear, at a cost we do not yet know.

Which is why birding, and, specifically, bird counting, is so important. While an outsider may view birding as a leisurely pastime, the practice of counting birds means far more, a harbinger of what is to come in an ever-changing ecology. There is hope, still, of reinvigorating bird populations that may have evaporated over time. “I always encourage young kids to start [birding],” Mr. Quevedo said, “because once they experience something significant, like a bald eagle, that’s it. They’re hooked for life.”

An American goldfinch photographed by Oksanna Briere.

Indeed, instilling a passion for birding in younger people may help to bring awareness to the crisis of population. Mr. Quevedo hopes, at the very least, that his lecture and bird walk can inspire people to find passion in birding, as he himself has. Those attending his walk can hope to see birds like the American goldfinch, various kinds of woodpeckers, the dark-eyed junco, scoters, and ducks, like the northern pintail and the black duck. “Other wintering birds that are pretty special are the arctic birds that visit us here, like snowy owls,” Mr. Quevedo said. “We get snow bunting. These are birds that visit us from the arctic tundra and they stay here looking for food, and they head back up in March.”

Following his February 6 lecture, about 45 minutes in length, Mr. Quevedo will take his group to Agawam Park in Southampton to see the water fowl. Attendees, he says, can expect to see American geese, mallards, and black ducks, among other birds. Although freezing ponds drive water-dependent birds to open water, Lake Agawam, which is oxygen-depleted, is machine aerated. The aerators create air bubbles, which prevent ice from forming. “Birds are able to stick around there,” Mr. Quevedo said. “I’ll have my spotting scope and binoculars.”

Community members not yet involved in birding can start with relative ease, Mr. Quevedo says. He recommends finding and joining a local birding group, or searching the South Fork Natural History Museum’s calendar of events, where bird walks are often offered. The Eastern Long Island Audubon Society also offers walks and information for local birders. As with any activity, birding, Mr. Quevedo attests, is a practice of consistency. The more one birds, the more one is likely to notice and encounter. And what about equipment for the novice birder? “Binoculars first, and then a Peterson’s Field Guide,” Mr. Quevedo said.

Wintering Birds and How They Survive will take place at the Rogers Memorial Library on Wednesday, February 6, from 12 to 1 p.m. To sign up, email progrms@myrml.org. Those planning to participate in the bird walk should bring a pair of binoculars.

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