Signs of Spring Today
John Pastore's Celery Farm Magazine

My Column: Birders' 'Spark Birds'

Scarlet 1 (1)
My column in The Record and other USA Today newspapers in New Jersey is all about birders' "spark birds" -- the birds that got them started in serious birding.

One of the birds -- of course -- was a Scarlet Tanager (above, photo by Darlene De Santis. Thanks, Dee!)

You can read the column here:

By Jim Wright

Special to The Record

  On a podcast many weeks ago, world-famous birder Noah Strycker discussed his “spark bird” – the bird that sparked his interest in birding. Screen Shot 2022-03-17 at 8.04.45 AM That got me wondering. Do other birders have spark birds as well?

   I decided to ask readers and other avian aficionados. As the answers arrived by email, I thought I detected a theme. Of the first four replies, two were for the great blue heron and the other two were for the ruby-throated hummingbird.

   What a perfect dichotomy: the largest bird and smallest bird in our region, each incredible in their own right. The great blue, an apparent throwback to the Land that Time Forgot, and the ruby-throat, a tiny acrobat of a bird that somehow survives in this great big turbulent world of ours.

   Then replies from other birders poured in, some lengthy, some short. I thought I’d share some highlights here, and follow up in my next column (March 31) with other spark birds – and the bird that got me hooked. The replies have been edited for space.

    Ed Canavan of Wayne writes:. My spark bird was a red-bellied woodpecker I saw in Little Falls many years ago. (I also saw a pileated right here in Pine Lakes last year).

    Fred Virrazzi, Colonia: “When I was young, we would read about dinosaurs and explore the local natural area and collect herptiles. One day on a willow in my yard, a striking ‘zebra bird’ was moving on the trunk.

     “Since we were often bitten by snakes while studying them, it kindled a realization that birds had the same patterns and were modern dinosaurs. The bird was a black-and-white warbler, It triggered me to eventually see about 4,500 bird species.” 

    Beth Goldberg, Fair Lawn: “ I had two spark birds seen at the same time in the same tree. I attended a weekend workshop in Sussex County meant to encourage women to engage in outdoor activities. I signed up for Birding 101. We took an early morning bird walk with them during the height of spring migration. 

     “I was amazed to see an indigo bunting and a scarlet tanager in the same tree. The vibrant colors were like nothing I had observed before. I was hooked and hungry for more!

    Landis Eaton, Princeton: “A common yellowthroat on a raft trip in Montana. I couldn't see the bird at first. Grrr! Very frustrating to hear its excited call and not see it! Round and round I went about the bush until finally – a glimpse! Whoa! The masked bandit! Elusive and beautiful. That did it!”

     Ilene Schneider, Marlton: “Until 1981, I had lived only in urban environments. When I moved to the suburbs, I quickly realized the birds in my yard were not pigeons or sparrows, I bought my first guidebook. I was hooked. Spark bird: Northern Cardinal.” 

      How about you? Email me at [email protected]. More in my next column.

   The Bird Watcher column appears every other Thursday.