While the humans of Washington have largely obeyed the governor's directive to stay at home, the birds of the world are doing the exact opposite. Notice flashes of yellow and black in the bushes and trees outside your work-from-home-window? Those are songbirds on a Seattle stopover, and this week is the best time to watch them.
The animals make their annual trek from Central and South America via a route called the Pacific Flyway—basically a migratory bird superhighway. They stop here in the Pacific Northwest to rest and recharge before continuing to Canada and the Arctic, where most breeding occurs.
Claire Catania, executive director of Seattle Audubon Society, marvels over the intricate process. "Migrating birds can really help us feel connected to each other and to the world, because that bird that you're looking at—as you're cooped up inside—has just traveled potentially thousands of miles and is out there, living this beautiful, complex life," Catania says. Aw, remember beautiful, complex lives?
Which makes early May the ideal time to take up bird-watching (or birding—yes, there's a difference). Powerful binoculars are not required, nor is actual identification; one can simply enjoy the avian parade. But to tell a white crowned sparrow from a chestnut-backed chickadee, Seattle Audubon offers BirdWeb, a searchable encyclopedia of Washington state ornithology.
As a maritime community, Seattle always has its share of shorebirds, ducks, and geese. If you haven't been dive-bombed by our local crow mafia, consider yourself lucky. But spring brings a wave of migrating songbirds: swallows, thrushes, warblers, waxwings. The Cornell Lab of Ornithology tracks the billions of songbirds through radar technology on a site called Birdcast in the same way weather forecasts track hurricanes; peak intensity has already hit the southeast, with levels rising in the Pacific Northwest by midweek.
The Nature Conservancy hosts a month of free virtual birding events, starting with Backyard Birding 101 via Zoom and Facebook Live on May 7; a local pro and former raptor rehabilitator will talk through the basics. But even solo, says Catania, bird-watching can be as simple as it sounds. "My tip is to just be quiet in whatever space you have and notice the world around you," she says. "It's a really dynamic exciting time right now and there's a lot to see."