Of birds and aesthetics

Several people have asked me why Birding Oregon doesn’t include any sites in the Columbia River Gorge. One reviewer recently bemoaned the fact that I did not include the Painted Hills. (Actually, I list several sites in the Painted Hills on page 34. I did not include any sites in the Gorge because the birding there is not any different from several other sites described in the Cascades.)

People tend to assume that beautiful scenery automatically produces great birding. But as Gershwin put it,”It ain’t necessarily so.” When I snapped this lovely picture of Crater Lake, there were about three species of birds present. I can usually find far more species at a little city park. In the winter, a certain urban duck pond in Portland often hosts six species of gull and a dozen waterfowl.

The truth is, birds, like all other organisms, require food, water, shelter and space. Some species can only find these in old-growth forests or pristine alpine meadows. But some find all they need in parking lots, city parks, dumps, and sewage treatment plants.

Birds do not share our aesthetic values. Do not assume where birds will be based on the view. It is nice when the two come together. But quite often, birds will lead us to ugly places. And that’s OK. What could be better at adding beauty to an ugly place than a bird? So celebrate that White-crowned Sparrow singing in the parking lot of the local shopping center. Find comfort in the Ring-billed Gull perched on the dumpster behind a restaurant. These are gifts that sustain us until we can make our way back to the beautiful places.

4 thoughts on “Of birds and aesthetics

  1. Oh, one more thing. I had no idea where you took the photo of the birdfeeder and chainlink fence. Then this morning I had my last Birding By Ear class and there it was! How funny!

  2. I really enjoyed your post. I always smile as I watch the ravens at the dumpsters in Yellowstone. I’ve also had the frustration of even the most tedious “hurry up and wait” situations at PDX strip mall parking lots melt away when I can watch brewers blackbirds go about their daily business. -mf

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