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The Cardinal Rules of Birdwatching

A Hobby You'll Fall For
Recently, I was hurrying through New York City's Central Park when over the dull roar of traffic I heard a flapping of wings.

I turned my head just in time to see an enormous white bird, as tall as a child, splash down in a fountain and dip its long yellow beak in the water. Nobody around me seemed to pay any attention, though. Was I seeing things? Had this animal escaped from the zoo?

Later, I learned that the bird was a great egret, one of hundreds of species that stop off in New York City's parks during their yearly migration from the jungles of South America to the forests of Canada.

Within days of the encounter, I was back in Central Park armed with a guidebook and a pair of binoculars. Since then, I have not missed the spectacle of the fall and spring migrations, and I have discovered that birds aren't the only creatures to flock to America's urban parks twice a year.

Exploring the Concrete Jungle

More than 17 million Americans call themselves birders, according to a 2002 Stanford University report. "It's one of the fastest growing hobbies in the country," says Noreen Weeden, a member of the Golden Gate Audubon Society . "It's something you can do anywhere. You can be standing and looking out your window, and if you notice a bird, suddenly you're engrossed. No other hobby works like that."

For city dwellers, a pair of binoculars and a walk to the local park can open up a whole new world. "People assume that their local birds will be boring; they have no concept of the diversity of birds that are out there. There's so much, if you learn how to look," says Tom Kelly of the Chicago Ornithological Society .

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