Springtime Means the Return of Birding by Ear

A group of birders standing on a path

One of the Council’s most popular events, Birding by Ear, returns for the sixth year on Saturday, May 4. Just as unique as their coloration and shape, bird sounds come in all tunes and pitches. Any experienced birder will tell you that identifying birds is at least as much about hearing them as seeing them. That’s what Birding by Ear is all about.

“I’m very pleased that we’re continuing to do this program,” says Council Executive Director Denise Jess. “It’s a program where you’ll always learn something, whether you’ve done it before or you’re completely new to birding.”

Historically, Birding by Ear has been organized by the Council in collaboration with the Southern Wisconsin Birding Alliance (formerly the Madison Audubon Society). This year, Madison’s Aldo Leopold Nature Center (ALNC) joins in as a third partner and as the event’s host. ALNC’s property has ribbons of pathways perfect for birders to explore.

“The awesomeness of bringing the Aldo Leopold Nature Center into the partnership is multi-faceted,” says Denise. In the past, classroom instruction and field experience took place in two different locations. Leopold has spaces for both, allowing us to compress the course from a two days into one cohesive day, from 8 a.m., to noon without reducing the learning content. The Center is also separated from traffic noise, a feature city parks did not always offer.
Birding by Ear is a hybrid event, allowing people from around the state to participate virtually in Zoom. The day will start in the classroom and then continue in the field later in the morning. An online facilitator will ensure that remote attendees can participate fully in the classroom portion. Those participating remotely will take part in a small group online activity while the in-person participants are out in the field.

There will be three options for participants to experience springtime bird sounds during the field portion. One is a “sit,” where birders stay in one place and the birds come to them, settling into and out of the immediate environment. There will also be two walking classes, with one route going about a mile and the other a half-mile trek.
Program Coordinator Kathleen Callen of the Council has been involved in planning Birding by Ear every year. “The class has grown in terms of who participates — geographically, experience level, etc. — but also in terms of expanding beyond our community,” she says. “I have loved being on the field trip outings and felt the energy as people learn together about birds, the outdoors, and how it can be accessible to a broader group of people.”

Aldo Leopold Marketing Manager Cara Erickson agrees. “Nature is to be experienced by all our senses, not just vision,” she says. “At the Aldo Leopold Nature Center, we are looking for ways to engage the full community.” Cara sees it as a two-way street for learning as well. “This will be a great way for us to learn from and support individuals in our community who are experiencing vision loss,” she says. “We are excited to continue learning how to best provide inclusive spaces and accessible lessons.”

Brenna Marsicek, Outreach Director for the Southern Wisconsin Bird Alliance, is also excited about continuing the popular springtime event. “Birding by Ear is a wonderful opportunity for people to experience birds in a whole new way,” Brenna says. “As an added benefit, each year we partner to present this class, we learn something new from our Council colleagues — both as an organization and as individuals! It is an absolute delight.”

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