Council and Audubon volunteer, Kerry Wilcox, has been an avid birder since the early 1990s. The Madison, Wisconsin native first became fascinated with birds while taking a class on the natural history of vertebrates at San Francisco State University.
The bird that inspired Kerry to become more than a casual birder was a male Allen’s hummingbird conducting a courtship display.
“It was creating some crazy metallic rattles and buzzes with its tail feathers,” Kerry says. “I have been hooked [on birding] ever since.”
His interest in birding by ear—identifying birds by the songs, calls and other sounds they make—blossomed about 12 years ago, he learned about the late Francisco Toledo, an artist/birder in Oaxaca, Mexico, who provided birding by ear outings for people who are blind or visually impaired. This knowledge encouraged Kerry to reflect on his own birding practices.
“I realized that I do much of my birding by ear,” he says. “It is one of the most enjoyable aspects of birding to me. Also, these outings shifted the paradigm for me, in that I suddenly thought of how birding could easily be enjoyed in many different ways.”
When he moved back to Madison from California in 2017, Kerry reached out to the Council to suggest a birding by ear class. To provide instruction and guides, Kerry and the Council worked in partnership with the Madison Audubon Society, a chapter of the National Audubon Society. Audubon protects birds and their habitats throughout The United States.
About 50 participants are involved with the Birding by Ear classes so far. This includes two webinars and three indoor classes teaching bird sounds, as well as three outdoor workshops to put the birding knowledge into practice.
Kerry has taken his Birding by Ear teacher experiences and applied the knowledge in other areas of his life. The aspect that Kerry feels has helped him the most is learning to describe surroundings and birds using words that denote direction and descriptions, instead of pointing at what he wants others to see. This knowledge has been particularly helpful when he is working as a part-time cab driver.
“I do not have family or friends who are visually impaired,” Kerry says. “Techniques I learned through working with the Council are impacting my whole life. I appreciate everything I have learned.”
In addition to birding, Kerry enjoys conservation, politics and social welfare. He loves camping, biking and hiking, and all are done usually in combination with birding. Kerry plays guitar and is always trying to learn a new technique. He also loves maps and geography. In addition to his cab driving gig, he works as a GIS (Geographic Information Systems) Technician where he creates maps and other products based on data collected by an environmental consulting firm in California.
Madison Audubon offers monthly birding by ear meet-ups in Madison. Watch Council social media, the Council events e-newsletter or the events page at madisonaudubon.org/events to learn when the next walk will take place.