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Oregon Birding: Q&A with Noah Strycker

Birder Noah Strycker shares his top spot for bird-watching in western Oregon.

Noah Strycker holds a magnolia warbler, image
Photo caption
Noah Strycker holds a magnolia warbler.

 

Oregon native Noah Strycker catapulted onto the national birding scene when he became associate editor of Birding magazine at just 22. His acclaimed second book, The Thing with Feathers: The Surprising Lives of Birds and What They Reveal about Being Human, is just out in paperback.

Q Why is Oregon interesting to birders?
A Of all the states in the country, Oregon has the fifth-highest bird list in terms of how many species you can find here. We also have a diverse range of habitats—the coast, the mountains, the valley, the high desert. All of those habitats are home to completely different bird species.

Q How did you get into birding?
A My fifth-grade teacher at Oak Hill School in Eugene, Ore., suction-cupped a plastic bird feeder to our classroom window, and would stop class every time a new bird showed up. All the other kids thought birds were dumb, but I really got into identifying the different species. I thought it was a fun challenge!

My family and friends weren’t into it, so birding was a personal passion. On my own, I figured out all the birds in my backyard. Once I started running into other, older birders at nearby parks, I joined local clubs, started taking trips, and never looked back.

Q Which Oregon spots were formative for you?
A When I was one month old, my parents moved us to a 20-acre farm at a dead end in the country, just outside Creswell. I’ve been able to identify 100 species of birds in my backyard alone. I believe Fern Ridge Wildlife Area, just outside Eugene, is the best bird-watching spot in western Oregon because it has such a large system of marshes, dikes, and embankments. It is an oasis for birds, and all of the birds drawn to wetlands get sucked in there.

Q What species get locals excited?
A Oregon has a few specialty birds that birders really fall for: The varied thrush and the mountain quail are two big ones. But there are no birds that reside in Oregon alone.

Q How should novice birders start?
A Learn the birds in your own backyard. Then go to your local park, the local lake. I highly recommend seeking out other bird-watchers and attending birding events such as the Christmas Bird Count. Local chapters of the National Audubon Society are another great resource.

Q How does bird behavior help us understand human behavior?
A The magpie is a truly fascinating species, and it’s a bird we have here in Oregon. It is the only bird in the world that can recognize itself in the mirror. The question becomes: Does that relate to self-awareness as we understand it in humans? Magpies also display grief, and they can solve puzzles. All of these are things we think of as distinctly human. We see things in bird behavior that show humans are often not as unique as we believe.

Q Why might nonbirders want to give birding a try?
A Birding motivates you to get outdoors and go to places you would never otherwise go. Birders often take friends with them, so it’s a social activity. In a larger sense, more and more people are getting urbanized and having scant encounters with nature, so it is especially important to get out and about and appreciate the wild one-on-one.

Photography courtesy of Noah Strycker

This article was first published in March 2015. Some facts my have aged gracelessly. Please call ahead to verify information.