Bonus For the Birds: Christmas gifts for the birder

Photo by Chris Bosak A bird house covered in snow, Danbury, CT, December 2019.

Here’s a Christmas column I wrote 6 years ago (Andrew is now 18). I stumbled across it on the internet and figured I’d rerun it. Why not? I thought the introductory story was pretty funny and I remember the day well. Some of the gift ideas may be out of date as this is an unedited version of the original column.

My son Andrew, now 12, needed a new pair of pants for school. And he needed them for the next day. Unfortunately it was a Sunday afternoon during the holiday shopping season.

Oh boy. Let’s get this over with, I said to myself. I avoid shopping malls and plazas at all costs all year round, let alone during a weekend a few weeks before Christmas.

It was even worse than I imagined. Parking was not an issue. There were plenty of spots far from the entrance and I don’t mind walking a few extra steps to avoid fighting over the closer spots.

Once inside the mall, however, things fell apart. It was beyond crowded and I stopped counting the number of groups walking slowly shoulder-to-shoulder, essentially blocking the path to my destination.

As I took the most circuitous route possible to where I needed to go, I noticed the condition of the shelves. What an abomination. Clothes were strewn all over the place – in the wrong piles, in the wrong section, even on the floor. I’m not the best clothes folder in the world, but I at least make an effort when I’m looking for the something. I certainly don’t just drop items on the floor or throw them unfolded across the top of the shelf. My mood worsened.

I finally got to the young men’s area, which was in even worse condition than the rest of the store. It looked like a group of 12-year-olds had a clothes fight and ran out of the store after getting yelled at. I found the piles of pants I was looking for and, of course, the sizes jumped from 10 to 14. Not a single size 12 among the seemingly dozens of 10s and 14s. I did a quick search of the pants that were randomly strewn about the general chaos of the section and found nothing. I thought of looking for a sales associate to see if they had any in the back and almost immediately realized what a complete waste of time that would have been.

So I struggled my way out of the store, down the crowded hallways to the next store where the pants may be and at last found a size 12. I got them home and they didn’t fit Andrew anyway. Too small. Apparently the sizes “run small” at the store where I bought them. What does that even mean? Shouldn’t a 12 be a 12? Oh well, it just capped off the experience.

The above is just my long-winded way of setting up my annual holiday gift guide for the nature lover on your list. Most of what I suggest can be done online so you can avoid similar experiences at the mall.

The most obvious gift for a birdwatcher is optics. The problem with giving optics, however, is that the “right” pair of binoculars is a matter of personal preference. Also, make sure your birder is in the market for a new pair of binoculars. Binoculars come in a dizzying range of prices, from the $10 cheapo pair to literally thousands of dollars. Like most things in life, you get what you pay for. A $10 pair from a department store will be serviceable, but the $1,000 Swarovskys will give you a much better look at the birds and last longer. As a rule of thumb, I’ve found the quality binoculars start at about $100. Less expensive ones, as I said before, can work fine, but $100 will get you a quality pair that will last.More for you

(Editor’s Note in 2021: Eagle Optics is no longer in business.) For binoculars and spotting scopes, check out Eagle has quality equipment (all prices) and a great service department.

There are plenty of less expensive options for your birder, too. Books immediately come to mind. Someone just getting into birding will need a field guide – or two, or more. Nowadays field guides come in book form or as apps for your phone. Again, personal preference comes into play, but you can’t go wrong with a Sibley Guide to the Birds. Richard Crossley, Kenn Kaufman and Peterson have good guides, as well.

Some new books out this year include Water Babies (a photographic look at baby water birds), Birding for the Curious, Gods of the Morning and A Backyard Birding Adventure (a children’s guide to backyard birds.) I’ll profile these books soon on my website

Feeders make for good gifts, too. There are literally dozens of types of feeders out there. Pretty much any feeder will be welcomed and utilized. I put up a window feeder for the first time this year and have enjoyed watching the chickadees and titmice come to my office window. No wonder I don’t get as much work done as I’d like these days. Check out Wild Birds Unlimited at 356 Heights Road in Darien and see Pat or Joe for some other recommendations.

Duck decoys, carved birds and other wildlife art is always welcomed. I have a modest decoy collection and always appreciate any addition.

Finally, consider giving a membership to a conservation organization. I make this suggestion every year and feel it bears repeating. Without these organizations much of the open space enjoyed by people, birds and other wildlife would not exist. Local land trusts (such as the Norwalk, Darien, New Canaan, Wilton and Aspetuck) exist for the sole purpose of buying land and saving it in perpetuity.

Similar organizations include the Cove Island Wildlife Sanctuary in Stamford and the various nature centers such as those in Darien, New Canaan, Stamford, Wilton (Woodcock) and Westport (Earthplace.) The Maritime Aquarium at Norwalk has a mission of protecting Long Island Sound — home to thousands of birds –so that’s a good option as well. Norwalk Seaport Association, SoundWaters, and Soundkeeper are also nonprofits that protect Long Island Sound. Both Connecticut Audubon (state organization) and Audubon Connecticut (part of the national Audubon) are also good options for memberships that will help protect local wildlife.

You can’t go wrong giving a membership or making a donation as a gift. They may not be the most exciting gifts to open, but they make a positive difference in the environment.

Thankfully there are plenty of options when it comes to shopping for the birder on your list. And thankfully you don’t have to go to the mall or any of them.

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