Birdwatching the new binge watching? Enjoying nature during the COVID-19 pandemic
OTTAWA -- It's fair. We have all been fixated on screens during this pandemic.
One of the greatest big screen TVs though may be the window to the backyard.
Birdwatching could be a new binge watch; a drama unfolding with every flap of a wing, and perfectly executed landing. The lead characters, or birds, are appealing to all ages.
We attract them. They distract us.
Eric Garrison and Margo Craig Garrison have been taking care of birds, and those who love birds, for almost 30 years. They own Wild Birds Unlimited, a store appropriately located in Ottawa’s Blue Heron Mall, on Bank Street.
Both have been lifelong lovers of wildlife and they are excited to see so many newcomers embracing this passion.
During the pandemic, they have witnessed others discovering and appreciating birds for the first time.
"People were shut down at home. They spent more time enjoying what they saw around their home and especially in their backyard and especially the birds," said Garrison.
"We have a lot of new people to the hobby."
Craig Garrison says staff members have been noticing how many young people have been in the store looking for feeders, seed and information.
"And young families with their kids. Parents are noticing how interested the kids are in the birds and they’re treating it as a sort of outdoor education, lighting a spark for learning about the natural world."
Eric says it is interesting to see connections form.
"It’s so funny; people don’t talk about the birds once they start feeding them. They call them ‘their birds’ because they are there in their backyard, and they watch them. We try to educate them that with bird feeding comes the responsibility. They take care of us. We take care of them."
Feedback from Birdseed to Curbside:
"I did one contactless delivery of birdseed to a man when we were able to reopen in the spring. He was so excited when he saw me, almost emotional. He said he has fed the birds for many years but has never been home to see them," says Garrison.
"During COVID, within a few days, he couldn’t wait to tell me that he saw an Indigo Bunting, a Male Rose breasted Grosbeak and Baltimore oriole."
"I told him that was the trifecta!"
Sometimes a happy chickadee first captures our imagination, or striking male cardinal. It can be a smart crow, or a darting swallow.
Eric Garrison remembers being captivated by birds at around age 5.
"My mother would say, now go feed the sparrows in the snowbank out there."
Margo Craig Garrison cannot remember a time when she didn’t feel connected to nature.
Her first memories of birds relate to her grandmother in the Annapolis Valley of Nova Scotia.
"I used to visit my grandmother a lot. She was widowed young. She and I would watch the birds from her kitchen window. She was always interested in birds. That sense of wonder was instilled in me," she says.
"They were so beautiful, with so many different colours. I was intrigued by how they would behave and how they would come back year after year."
Through Wild Birds Unlimited, Margo and Eric have turned many onto that same sense of wonder. They say birds need three basic things: food, water and shelter.
They like to help beginners establish a feeding station.
Happy to be a fairly novice "Bird Nerd", I shared video of the phenomenal flock of Yellow breasted grosbeaks visiting the balcony of my Chelsea, Quebec home.
Eric echoed that this is an exciting sight.
"They are really interesting birds. We haven’t seen numbers that we are seeing this year for probably the last 40 years. So what we’re finding at our location here, a lot of customers coming in sharing their stories and their excitement, and absolute joy, that they’re seeing these birds travelling in quite large flocks."
These grosbeaks are also good for a bird business.
"If you get them, you might need more than a five-pound bag of seed because they are known as 'Greedies' they will eat as much as you put out," chuckles Garrison.
"They really enjoy sunflower and safflower seeds. They’re absolutely stunning and beautiful birds."
Eric is a director on the board of The Wild Bird Care Centre, a place in need of fundraising support. He and Margo are both dedicated to education, conservation and preservation.
Margo is a long-time board member and former chair of The Ottawa Humane Society Board.
Both are glad to see such a keen interest in birding and nature take-off.