Joan Strassmann, author of "Slow Birding" to speak at Ruth Keeler Memorial Library


Get out your binoculars and spend time being more observant of the birds on your property. That’s meaningful advice from Joan Strassmann, avid bird watcher and author of “Slow Birding: The Art and Science of Enjoying the Birds in Your Own Backyard.”

“I’m all for local birding,” said Strassmann. “As you get into birds and find out how everybody runs all over the place looking at them, it became clear to me that I wanted to not just see a bird but know a lot about it. When you see a bird and you can then go out and find out more about that bird it just makes seeing the common bird more fulfilling.”

An award-winning professor of biology and animal behavior at Washington University in St. Louis who previously taught bird courses at Rice University, Strassmann compares her mindset of thoughtful bird observation to the Slow Food Movement in Italy where communities eat locally grown food and savor every bite, allowing it to nourish their heart and soul. “To me slow birding is almost a meditation or a philosophy of looking at the birds over and over again in the same place that you get to know well so you can see the small changes,” she said, sharing that she connects to birds by observing them when she’s hungry. “It makes a lot more sense when you’re watching birds if you realize they’re always hungry. A lot of what they’re doing is geared toward getting food or managing that hunger. It gives me a bond if I’m a little hungry; not like they are, but it helps me as I watch what they’re doing.”

On Wednesday, March 15, Strassmann will offer an online discussion of “Slow Birding” through an author talk co-hosted by the Ruth Keeler Memorial Library and the North Salem Open Land Foundation. The book offers an in-depth discussion of 16 common species that Strassmann has had personal experiences with, including the blue jay, one of her favorites. “I love lots of birds, but the blue jay is underappreciated. It’s not the state bird of any state even though it’s one of the most Googled birds.”

The book examines the bird’s environment, history, behavior, and how it changes with the seasons. “Ornithologists have figured out so many amazing things. My book tries to not just tell the science of the bird, but also the stories of the researchers who made the discoveries. I feel it’s really important to know where knowledge comes from,” said Strassmann who has studied the social behavior of wasps and amoebas and has written more than two hundred scientific articles on behavior, ecology, and evolution of social organisms. During her talk she will discuss birds commonly found in New England, such as the blue jay and robin, and share personal stories.

Strassman recalls the time she was a young girl learning to use her father’s very old binoculars to bird watch. “The bird I remember most vividly noticing as different was an Indigo Bunting. I just love bluebirds,” she said, encouraging bird watchers to fit in a 15-minute bird walk every day and log onto eBird, a collaborative online database managed by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, to record their bird sightings.

“Scientists can take the worldwide patterns and understand why we are losing so many birds. We’ve lost 2 billion birds in the last couple of decades. They compile the data and look for patterns.”

Strassmann appreciates being part of helping the bird population. “I find it personally enriching to see a robin in the garden,” she said. “But when I do a 15-minute full observation of all the birds in the yard and upload it to eBird, I like to feel like I’m making a small difference to all birds.”

Joan Strassmann's author talk, hosted by the Ruth Keeler Memorial Library, will take place Wednesday, March 15 via Zoom from 7:00-8:30p.m. Click here to register.

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