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Eastern Kingbird by Mike Benkis

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Bird watching can be contagious!

It was the summer of 2020. The COVID pandemic had just begun, and Erin Thoman, nurse practitioner and mother of four, was looking for ideas to keep her kids learning and excited at home. 

A male Goldfinch in the backyard caught her attention. It was beautiful, and she wondered what it was and how she could attract more. Never having been a bird watcher, Thoman contacted nearby Wild Birds Habitat at 168th and Harrison and asked for some advice. That was the beginning of the family’s transformation into “Bird Nerds.” 

Happy to support a small business, she followed their recommendations to get a Finch feeder and a Cardinal feeder. Then the birds arrived. Cardinals, House Finches, Sparrows, Robins, Blue Jays … it was time to get more feeders! 

The kids, ages 3-10 at the time, loved identifying the birds. Getting out the book, Birds of Nebraska, they learned the birds’ species, their favorite foods, how big they got, and whether they were male or female. When they spotted a young Robin losing its feathers, they learned about molting. 

Marley, the youngest, named all the Bluejays “Peanut” for their favorite food, while Liam, the oldest, calls Cardinals “Cardi B” after the rapper. 

They discovered Blue Jays prefer shelled peanuts, which they bury in the back yard, much to the dismay of their dad, Jeff, who is a professional turf manager. 

Thoman says, in addition to their more common bird visitors, they’ve seen Goldfinch, Downy Woodpeckers, Red-bellied Woodpeckers, Barn Swallows, Baltimore Orioles, and, with the addition of a Hummingbird feeder, they’ve enjoyed the antics of their smallest guests. Today, their backyard bird buffet includes the Hummingbird feeder, two Cardinal feeders, two Finch feeders, two suet cages, and a jelly feeder. The most unusual bird they’ve spotted was a Bobwhite Quail.

Learning to identify bird calls keeps everyone alert when they walk the path in a nearby creek. They find the many varied calls of the Blue Jays fascinating, as well as the distinctive calls and sounds of the Downy and Red-bellied Woodpeckers. 

“We’ve always been an outdoors-type family, but learning about birds has given us a whole new dimension and appreciation for nature,” said Thoman.

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