Whether we live in the city, the suburbs, or the country, birds are as much a part of our life as the sky and the air. As a whole, the class aves (Linnaean) is intelligent, resourceful, adaptable, and beautiful in form, color, movement, behavior, and song. Yet we hardly notice birds most of the time unless we maintain a feeder or keep a garden. Our lack of attention is surprising, though, since there are almost 10,000 species of birds in the world today (plus over 1,000 extinct ones) according to the Encyclopedia Britannica. The Order Anseriformes alone, which includes ducks, swans, and puffins (among many others), comprises 150 species.
Fortunately for the Johns Hopkins community, the various JHU libraries are home to a marvelous collection of informative, beautiful, and unique works to edify and delight the bird enthusiasts among us.
An ideal place to start raising your awareness about birds is one of the excellent field guides, such as Peterson’s and National Audubon Society, that can be found at the Eisenhower Library. These titles provide many clues for bird identification, including flight patterns, size, distinguishing marks, transcriptions of calls, migration patterns, and habitat. JHU also has an online subscription to Birds of North America, an excellent and highly regarded publication.
If a written transcription of a bird’s song is less than satisfying to you (think “twee-wacka-twee”), perhaps the best online resource for recorded bird calls and songs (and much more) is the Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s “All About Birds” guide. And if you want something you can listen to on your iPad or smartphone, then Chirp! Bird Songs USA (with content from Cornell) is the app for you.
Birds have long been the fascination of wildlife artists, and among JHU’s rare book collections are some of the all-time greats of bird art. The Garrett Library at JHU’s Evergreen Museum and the George Peabody Library in particular are treasure troves of priceless editions containing paintings of birds in their natural habitats—and well worth a visit for their ambiance alone. Among the best-known bird artists represented in these collections are Alexander Wilson & Charles Lucien Bonaparte, John James Audubon, Mark Catesby, Ulysses Aldrovandi, and John Gould.
There is no substitute, however, for getting out to where the most interesting birds hang out. During migration season (spring and fall), there are some magical places within day or weekend trip distance for viewing birds in their thousands. At Hawk Mountain, Pennsylvania, visitors hike up a trail and perch on rocks high above the valley to watch eagles and hawks of every description soar past. (Hint: Bring binoculars). Delaware’s amazing Bombay Hook National Wildlife Refuge is at its peak in March and November for observing millions of migrating waterfowl on the park’s 16,000 acres of wetlands and woodlands.