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Michelle Soper
Black-headed grosbeak

There are, in the world, roughly 10,000 different species of birds. About 800 of those fly here in the United States, and, of the 800, more than half can be found in Utah.

On any given day, an individual might mentally recognize five or six different birds, and a casual bird-watcher may make a couple dozen casual identifications. A serious birder might be able to point out 50 or 60 different birds on any given day.

Bird-watching is to some interesting and to others a passion.

In some way or another, everyone in the world watches birds as they move about. More than 82 million of those people in the United States call themselves bird-watchers. Surveys show one in three people in the United States, in some way or another, participated in bird-watching this past year.

This makes bird-watching the most popular wildlife pastime in the country.

And, pointed out Betsy Beneke, outdoor recreation planner for the Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge, for the very reason mentioned, that is, "There are birds everywhere ... lots of birds."

Each year over a four-day period, Americans are asked to participate in the Great Backyard Bird Count. This past winter, participants submitted 85,700 checklists and identified 635 species.

Which birds made the list?

Record numbers of pine grosbeaks, evening grosbeaks and common redpolls were counted. Falling in numbers were the yellow-billed magpies. Utah does not see the two grosbeaks but does hold their cousins, the rose-breasted, black-headed and blue grosbeaks. And while it doesn't have the yellow bill, there are large numbers of black-billed magpies.

Top 10 most-reported birds were the northern cardinal, mourning dove, dark-eyed junco, downy woodpecker, American goldfinch, blue jay, house finch, tufted titmouse, black-capped chickadee and American crow.

Among those found in Utah are the crow, jay, finch, cardinal and chickadee.

Another element that is appealing to bird-watching is it's inexpensive. Standard equipment is a pair of binoculars and a field guide. The only other thing needed is time, and really not much of that.

"People can start with one of those bird feeders you put on the window or a tree or shrub where birds can build a nest," said Beneke.

"What we find is people become curious and buy a book to identify the birds in their backyard, then those in their neighbor's, then in the neighborhood. Pretty soon they are a full-fledged birder. It's different for different people, but the one thing that binds us together is we all appreciate birds."

As far as where to find birds, they are, as noted, everywhere. The highest number of winged fliers in Utah is along the shores of the Great Salt Lake. In fact, because of its importance to birds, the lake has been designated the Western Hemisphere Shorebird Reserve. Millions of birds making their twice-yearly flights north to south and back again, stop on or near the lake to rest and refuel.

All of which, of course, brings not just a few birds but millions.

"Huge numbers," said Beneke. "Tens of thousands of birds come to Utah. As many as half a million eared grebes show up in October. Wilson's phalaropes and red phalaropes pile onto the Great Salt Lake in the fall in huge numbers.

"Birds we have in Utah are found in other parts of the country, but people come here, to Utah, to see these birds because we have such large numbers."

And, as noted, we have the variety of birds, ranging from the more common, like the American robin and chickadee, to the rarer Gunnison sage-grouse, black rosy-finch and snowy plover.

One of the more popular bird-watching locations is the Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge in Brigham City. Free tours are offered at the refuge. Trained guides not only help identify birds but also offer information about the various species.

On any given day, said Beneke, visitors can be introduced to 50 to 60 different species.

Since the refuge's center opened two years ago, visitors have been recorded from all 50 states, as well as from 24 different countries.

Other popular birding locations include the Ogden Nature Center, Ogden Bay Bird Refuge, Farmington Bay Bird Refuge, Cutler Marsh in Logan, Antelope Island State Park, the Uinta Mountains and at Utah's 13 ski resorts.

Information can be found on birding Web sites — www.utahbirds.com, www.wasatchaudubon.org, www.greatsaltlakeaudubon.org, www.bridgerlandaudubon.org, www.wildbirdcenter.com, www.wildbird.com/layton and www.wildlife.utah.gov/birdsightings.

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