Nicholas Lund

nature and science

How to Tell a Canvasback from a Redhead

When you’re all set on identifying Mallards and are ready for the next level of waterfowl, Redheads and Canvasbacks are waiting. These are stately diving ducks, with clean colors and dignified postures that tell you right away that they won’t be begging for bread crumbs. But the two species look similar—the drakes with coppery heads, dark chests, and light-colored bodies, and the hens a fairly uniform brown. So, some ID cheats are recommended. First, know that range maps won’t help. Both of the

Birdist Rule #96: Know Which Wrens Live Near You

Wrens aren’t our flashiest birds, but they more than make up for it with their big personalities. Small and brown, they rarely sit still, whether vigorously defending  their nests and territories, pecking for food on the forest floor, or just incessantly chattering away. They’ll get into shouting matches and physical confrontations with interlopers, including much larger species and humans, and even destroy eggs of other birds. In other words, wrens don't mess around. They’re also loud. Really

Birding Like It’s 1899: Inside a Blockbuster American West Video Game

The first time I see ravens, I flush them out of an alpine meadow carpeted with wildflowers. I pause to watch the flock fly off towards the distant, snow-capped peaks, trailed by their echoing croaks, when a man riding by on horseback bumps into me. Irritated, I shoot the man dead, and take his hat. So it goes in "Red Dead Redemption 2." Available since October, "Red Dead Redemption 2" (RDR2) is a video game set in an imagined version of the American West in the year 1899. It’s a massive releas

Can't Take a Birding Vacation? Try Google Street View Instead

I am the most well-traveled birder I know. In the past week alone, I have seen Torrent Ducks in the Urubamba River in Peru, watched an Ivory Gull fly over the ice floes in Nunavut, and witnessed a Black Kite alight on a perch in Queensland, Australia. I’ve watched tiny, endangered Cobb’s Wrens scatter under my feet on a beach in the Falkland Islands. I’ve seen condors soar in the Andes. I’ve been to all seven continents in the past seven days without getting a single immunization or enduring a

This New Guide Finally Simplifies Gull IDs

No family of birds causes quite as much heartburn as gulls. Just as I might convince myself that a stray plastic bag is a Snowy Owl, I sometimes also hope that a gull is actually a plastic bag so I don’t have to try to key it out. Those birds really get in your head. But what is it that makes the gull family such a feared foe? It’s not their diversity; there are only about a dozen regularly expected gull species in any one place, far fewer than the beloved warblers or even the cryptic sparrows.

Birdist Rule #43: Personalize Your License Plate With Something Birdy

Tasked with locating their mates among a dense mass of identical-looking birds, Emperor Penguins have evolved an elaborate vocal organ which can emit two sounds at once. Birders have it easier. Tasked with locating each other among the throngs of similar-looking cars on the road, we can just personalize our license plates. The other week I saw an out-of-state plate in a ferry terminal parking lot that read B1RDER, and I knew immediately that these people were my people. I didn’t even need to me

Learn the Fall and Winter Colors of These Common Bird Species

If there’s one thing you need to know about seasonal feathers, it’s this: Birds in spring are dressed to kill, while birds in fall are dressed to chill. During breeding season, birds employ all manner of seduction on potential mates, including beautiful songs, choreographed displays, and bright, crisp feathers. Like a fancy tuxedo on prom night or a few sessions in the tanning bed, many male birds put on their nicest duds each spring to impress. Once breeding season is over, though, it’s back

Where to Find the Rarest Swift in North America

The number one thing you should know about Black Swifts is that pursuing them always leads to an adventure. You’re not guaranteed that when seeing most species—no birder ever regaled you with the thrilling story of the time they saw a House Sparrow—but as one of the most mysterious and difficult-to-find birds in North America, finding Black Swifts is never a snooze. My first attempt to chase them involved hiking deep into and up a canyon in western Colorado. I was dripping sweat and breathing h

10 National Parks That Are Surprisingly Great for Birding

The National Park Service manages 417 of the most beautiful landscapes and important historical and cultural sites in America. Many of these national parks are world-famous for their wildlife. For birders, however, the most popular national parks aren’t always the areas with the largest bird diversity. A big plot of land does not guarantee a big list of birds. Features like high habitat diversity, whether a park is a migrant trap, and the “Central Park” oasis effect can all lead to a large numb

A Birder's Dilemma: Should You Name Your Baby After a Bird?

Back in January, my seven-month-pregnant wife Liz was a tornado of activity. She was setting up the registry, scheduling doctor's appointments, planning for the nursery, getting us on daycare waiting lists, and of course, carrying the baby. I, meanwhile, was sitting around, thinking about what we'd name the kid. It wasn’t as relaxing as it sounds. In fact, choosing a name for our baby boy, we learned, was next to impossible. Both of us made a list of names we liked, and then started culling. Fi

Birdist Rule #59: Learn to Identify Warblers From Below

Birders know spring migration as a kind of paradise, when the weather is finally warm and the birds are once again plentiful. But even paradise isn’t perfect. The bugs are back, for one thing. And unlike birds sitting in bare winter trees, spring migrants always seem to be hidden behind newly emerged leaves. It’s even harder to see the bright and beautiful patterns of migrant warblers, who spend most of their time flitting about treetops and only showing us their butts. I’ve spent so much time

Four Quick Tips for Identifying Hybrids

Birders are obsessed with trying to tell species apart, but sometimes the birds themselves aren’t so picky. Occasionally, individuals from two different species will come together and pop out offspring with characteristics of each parent. These unique, field-guide-defying birds are known as hybrids. About 10 percent of the world’s avian species are known to have hybridized with another species. But why? There isn’t a clear answer. The romantic in me likes to think of it like Romeo and Juliet, w

Ten of the Best Podcasts About Birds

Podcasting has revolutionized the airwaves for millions of Americans, and birders are no exception. I personally have a rotation of eight or so podcasts that I listen to every day to and from work and, frankly, I don’t know how people got along beforehand. Read the newspaper? Boring. Make conversation? No thanks. Podcasts are a lifesaver for the introverts in all of us. Thankfully, there are a lot of birding podcasts to add to the roster. Some are short; some are long. Some focus on news and in

If I Were a Robot, Here's All the Awesome Birding Features I'd Have

What will birding be like in the future? It’s impossible to know for sure. Climate change or nuclear war might mean that life lists top out at only a handful of species. Or, thinking positively, maybe a prolonged worldwide peace will bring about an awakened ecological understanding. Our planet’s bird populations will rebound, and once rare species will yet again flourish. Heck, maybe we’ll even bring back some extinct species so they can retake their rightful place on Earth. Whichever version o

Birdist Rule #48: Go Find a Swan—a Wild Swan

We’ve all seen the image on a Happy Anniversary card or one of those positivity posters hanging in the doctor’s office: two swans facing each other on a calm pond, their respective long necks slightly arched in toward one other, forming an approximation of humanity’s international symbol for love, the heart. How sweet. Swans have been associated with romantic love for at least as far back as the ancient Greeks, who told of Zeus disguising himself as one of these giant birds to seduce the Sparta

Birdist Rule #74: Watch Some Movies About Birding

It can be hard to go birding during the holidays. Maybe you’ve eaten too much and can’t get up off the couch. Maybe your weird cousin has cornered you in the living room and is telling you about his recent orthodontic surgery. Maybe it’s just too dang cold outside. Well, if you can’t get out birding, at least you might be able to watch some movies about birding. Birding and birders are often presented as butts of the joke on screen. We’re eccentrics at best, and downright lunatics (loonatics?)

Rule #46: Go on a Successful Birding Trip Without a Guide

There’s a tiny chance that at any moment during a baseball game you’ll be forced to deal with a foul ball: a rock-hard leather sphere hurtling toward your face. It's a prospect at once terrifying and exciting. You could end up with a sore lump on your skull, sure, but you could also come home with a rare prize that advertises your luck, reflexes, and athleticism. Then there's the foul ball I caught. I was a kid at a Red Sox–Orioles game watching batting practice, and the guy next to me managed

Birdist Rule #83: Identify Your First Ibis

The first time I ever saw an ibis was in third grade when we were studying the ancient Egyptians. There were all kinds of cool animals depicted as gods in the hieroglyphics: falcons, owls, crocodiles, cats and . . .  a small-headed, long-billed, bird-type thing that I didn’t recognize and had a funny name: “Ibis.” Next to those other gods, I thought, this one wasn’t quite as impressive. I didn’t even know we had ibis in this country until I was a birder, let alone three different species. They

The Best Tools for Forecasting Bird Movements and Migrations

If birders could have a superpower (specifically for birding), I bet most would wish to see into the future. We’re always trying to figure out the best places and times to bird. Which day is that big migration going to make landfall? Will the birds be hanging out in the woods or at the lake? Should I call out of work sick on Wednesday or Thursday? It’s important foresight. I don’t know anyone who’s gone so far to try a fortune teller, but I’m not saying it’s a bad idea, either. Or maybe, birder

Birdist Rule #87: Know How to Bird on Vacation with a Non-Birding Spouse

The majority of birders I know are in relationships with non-birders. I’d guess that has a lot to do with a fairly small pool of available birder partners, but it could also be that any single relationship can handle only one crazy person. Either way, birders and non-birders can make it work. Take, for example, me and my non-birding wife, Liz. How do we do it? Well, there are a couple qualities that help. Liz is a heavy sleeper, so I can usually get out early on a migration morning and be back
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