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Birding For Beginners

For years, bird-watching has been considered the hobby of little old ladies in floppy hats and sneakers. But recent surveys reveal 46 million Americans bird-watch. And with a little instruction, you can too.

By just going out to your backyard or the local park, you can discover a whole new world, the world of birds, reports resident veterinarian Debbye Turner.

Bird-watching is on the rise. According to the National Survey on Recreation and Environment, it's the fastest growing outdoor activity in the United States.

Gabriel Willow has loved birds since he got his first pair of binoculars at 9 years old. Now he can identify a bird just by hearing its call.

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"There is something about walking out in the woods and going, 'Oh yeah, there's a nut hatch. There's a blue jay. There's a sparrow,'" says Willow. "Some people get a rush watching SmackDown, WWF whatever. This is the outdoor equivalent."

On one chilly October morning members of the New York Audubon Society took me out to Prospect Park in Brooklyn, N.Y., for a little "birding" - that's what the pros call it.

Michelle Dreger is a postal worker during the week but gives bird-watching tours on the weekends. She says while binoculars help you get a good look at faraway birds, they are not mandatory.

"For your first bird-watching tour you really don't need anything but your eyes. You listen with your ears. You look with your eyes. Once you get better at it, then it goes from your ears to your eyes to our binoculars," she says.

It also helps to know a little bird calling. This is called "spishing" and usually arouses a songbird's curiosity.

As our group of avian enthusiasts move deeper into the park, they can hardly contain the excitement of a rare sighting - a red-tailed hawk.

"The amazing thing is when you get to see a hawk in action. You see a hawk pick a sparrow out of the sky. And if you are lucky enough, you get to see it eat it. It sounds gross," says Dreger. "But it's nature right in front of you."

If you are fortunate enough to live near water, the birds near coastal waterways are large and majestic. This is the perfect time of year to see them.

Buy a field guide for the birds in your area. Consult a local wildlife group or to learn how to make your yard attractive to the birds in your area.

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