Enjoying Birds with a Biologist Known for ‘Slow Birding’

    By Kathleen Berger

    Joan E. Strassmann enjoys a quiet stroll through areas of Forest Park in St. Louis, looking and listening for birds.  In 2020, during the pandemic, the Charles Rebstock Professor of Biology at Washington University in St. Louis wrote a book about birding.

    “This is a book I’ve wanted to write for about 30 years. Slow Birding talks about five places I bird regularly in the St. Louis area,” Strassmann said.

    The book, Slow Birding: The Art and Science of Enjoying the Birds in Your Own Backyard, is for anyone interested in birding. The book may be particularly helpful for beginners.

    “It just introduces 16 really common species of birds,” she said. “You’ll learn more about these very common birds and about the ornithologists that made the discoveries.”

    Strassmann said Forest Park is big enough for many kinds of birds.

    “The eye candy that everyone looks for are the Warblers. So, the Warblers are little, tiny insectivore birds with small beaks, and they move fast and they have brilliant colors.”

    Strassmann said that when people are absorbed in their busy lives, the Northern Cardinal is often the first bird they notice. But she suggests that, in general, people should take time to stop and listen to all the sounds around them, including the birds.

    “Most people that have been birding for a while, mostly ‘bird’ with sound. I love to hear the sounds. I love to just stop for a moment and listen and see what birds I can hear at a given moment.”

    Strassmann emphasized that springtime is a wonderful time for interested birders to begin!

    “The kind of amazing feast for birders is migration and spring migration. I think above all, we feel full of hope and new energy,” she said. “Late March and right through mid-May is just a fantastic time. And really early May is the best.”

    Strassmann said you don’t have to go far.  In fact, you can enjoy birding in your own backyard or local park.

    “’Slow birding’ is watching the birds, staying close to home or in a place that you happen to be. And feel as enriched by seeing a Red-winged Blackbird which is singing in the background or a Cardinal or a Robin once you understand more about them.”