Interviews with the bird fans of the Pioneer Valley


At Mount Holyoke College, there are a plethora of different bird species, ranging from finches to woodpeckers to the infamous domestic goose, Jorge. Many walk by these creatures without giving them a second thought, but a few stop and take notice. Sarah Cosmedy ’20 and Ted Gilliland, an assistant professor of Economics, are among those few.

Sarah Cosmedy

What is your favorite bird in the Pioneer Valley?

“The black-capped chickadee because they have a call that is like a high note and then a low note. It’s kind of long and everytime I hear it, I’m like ‘Spring is coming!’ so I associate them with good things.”

Are you a member of any local bird watching groups?

“I am a member of Western Mass Bird Photography on Facebook, but I have not done any physical birdwatching, other than with my own eyes.”

When did you first become interested in birds?

“I got a birdfeeder the beginning of first semester because my dorm [room] has a balcony attached. I don’t think I realized that birds don’t just come to bird feeders, you have to teach them where it is, so I spent a couple days throwing seed off the balcony and hoping birds would come by. So probably last semester, when birds started landing on the feeder and I actually got to see them.”

If you were a bird, what bird would you be?

“Honestly, just a house sparrow. They’re just a little chaotic and they wake me up in the morning with their chirping noises, they’re always in groups. I’m a pretty average bird!”

Where do you birdwatch and how often do you do it?

“Well, partly on the balcony, if birds come on to the feeder. They usually make noise and tell you they’re there. And it’s right outside the window so I can see it from inside. But, other than that, walking to and from classes. Most of the time, you can hear birds more than you can see them, so I just kind of listen and see if I can match them to calls. And sometimes, I’ll go to Upper Lake. I’ve seen woodpeckers up there. And the heron is up there as well!”

Ted Gilliland

What’s your favorite bird in the Pioneer Valley?

“I don’t have a favorite bird... it’s nice to watch the seasons go by with the birds that come at different times of the year. I just like going out and seeing what’s coming through.” 

Are you a member of any local bird watching groups?

“Yes. I am a member of the Hampshire Bird Club, which is one of the local bird clubs in the area that meets in Amherst.” 

When did you first become interested in birds?

“I first started watching birds when I was 13. I built a birdfeeder and was curious about what species were coming to the feeder, so I got a book and some binoculars and I’ve been doing it ever since.”

If you were a bird, what bird would you be?

“That’s a hard question! I’m really not sure. Maybe an arctic tern because you’d get to fly all around the world. They migrate from the Arctic to the Antarctic every year and back. And they live quite a long time! I heard a story where they put rings on their feet and one was 27 years old, which meant it had flown from the Arctic to the Antarctic and back to the Arctic 27 times!”

Where do you birdwatch and how often do you do it?

“Just about every weekend. Really, birds can be found just about anywhere. I go to local nature preserves like Arcadia Nature Preserve over in Easthampton. The Fort River Nature Trail up in Hadley is really nice. Along the river anywhere there can be birds. Even just walking around Upper Lake, you can find a lot of birds up there, like a great blue heron. You can do it just about anywhere! As for what you are actually doing, the name implies that you are just looking at them, but why would you just look at them? They’re beautiful, but the process of trying to find them and being able to figure out what species they are is really challenging and it is a challenge to be skillful at it. There are people out there who are truly experts and going out in the field with them is pretty amazing! You get to learn a lot from them. In some ways, it is a way to learn about our environment.” 

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