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Bird-watching is a growing sport

Spring has returned to northern Utah. The tulips are out and columbines are beginning to bloom. Even roses are making their debut. All these signs of life are accompanied by the migratory birds that will soon make their nests here. Some might even be in your own backyard, and learning to identify them can be a fun challenge. It’s a challenge that Eric Peterson, primary elephant keeper at Hogle Zoo, has taken to heart.

Peterson says it was a trip to the Lewa Wildlife Conservancy in Kenya that got him interested in birds. Each day, in addition to the rhinos, elephants and giraffes, the guides would point out the birds native to the area. By the end of the trip, Peterson ended up with photos of approximately 88 species of birds. On the way home from Africa he started wondering how many bird species call Utah home. A month later he had put up feeders in his yard, and with a book on Utah birds in hand, he started to identify the visitors to his yard.

After a year, he decided to join the Utah County birders and went on his first birding field trip. Peterson says part of the joy of going on a group field trip is sharing the excitement others feel from seeing something new, even if it is something he has seen a hundred times. Each photograph he takes captures a moment in time that vividly brings to mind the memories of that day.

According to a 2011 U.S. Fish and Wildlife study titled “Birding in the United States: A Demographic and Economic Analysis,” Peterson is just one of 47 million Americans who call themselves birders — which is about 20 percent of the population.

If you think you might enjoy bird-watching, this Friday and Saturday is a perfect time to get started by attending the Great Salt Lake Bird Festival. There are a number of programs and workshops that are family and youth oriented. You can build a birdhouse, watch a movie, learn about bats or work on a Boy Scout merit badge.

Getting started

Peterson says birding clubs are a good place to start. There are always people there who are novices, and there are always people there who are willing to help.

Check birding websites such as www.utahbirds.org. There are loads of photos and links, and you can get help by emailing the club.

Get a guide book. Peterson likes “The Sibley’s Guide to Birds.”

Finally, just get away from the TV and get outside to observe the world around you.

Hummingbird facts

• There are more than 325 hummingbird species in the world, eight of which regularly breed in the United States. Six of them can be found in Utah.

• The smallest hummingbird weighs less than a penny.

• It must consume approximately half its weight in sugar daily.

• A hummingbird’s average heart rate is more than 1,200 beats per minute.

SOURCE: birding.about.com

Want to know more?

Attend the Humminbird Mania workshop, presented by Eric Peterson, on Saturday, May 16, 11:45 a.m., at the Great Salt Lake Bird Festival

If you go:

Great Salt Lake Bird Festival

Where: Davis County Legacy Events Center, 151 S. 1100 West, Farmington, Utah

When: May 14-18

Cost: Workshops and presentations are free. Check the website for cost of field trips.

For list of youth activities: www.greatsaltlakebirdfest.com

Photo caption text provided by WildAwareUtah.org.