Amish Birding

Amish are known to be avid birders.  As an outdoors activity you can do with family, I suppose that shouldn’t come as a surprise.  This might be the wrong analogy, but I’ve always imagined it as hunting without the guns.

Amish BirdingI don’t have any statistics but it seems like it is particularly popular among Amish in Ohio.  There is even an Amish Bird Symposium next month in Adams County, OH.  Charles Hurst and David McConnell wrote about birding in their book on the Holmes County Amish, An Amish Paradox:

Although life on the farm always included awareness of bird life, many Amish now engage in bird-watching as a serious hobby.  Amish birders sport the latest optical equipment, such as Swarovski spotting scopes and binoculars. It is not uncommon for an Amish birder to carry upwards of twenty-five hundred dollars worth of optical equipment into the field.  Some Amish are highly regarded in birding circles for their skills in identifying birds by sight and sound and check the local rare bird alerts on a regular basis.  Somewhat surprisingly, Amish birders are avid “listers”, keeping life lists, state lists, and annual lists of species seen, which serve as the basis for friendly competition.

I enjoy hearing the latest tallies from Amish friends but I’ve never tried it myself (“birding” for me means a trip to KFC).  I like birds outside my window, but I’ve just never been pulled to go chase them around.

My impression is that it is a lot of tramping about in the woods to catch glimpses of wings flapping away (do I sound grumpy this morning?).  But I suppose if you’re fitted out with the high-tech scope, it can be a lot more intense and exciting than that.  Maybe I need to give it a try.

Are you a birder, or have you ever tried birding?  What is the appeal?

Photo credit: Jen Goellnitz/flickr

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    1. Amish Birding

      I have to admit I am fascinated watching, feeding, and identifying birds. I have not found a birding group in my area although I’ve looked. Any time I’m in the outdoors I’m on alert for birds. We have a few Bald Eagles in the area on occasion and that is always fun to see.
      Everyone in North America can have a little taste of this by participating in the the Great Backyard Bird Count coming up this weekend, Feb. 17-20. Find more information at Won’t you join me?

      1. Bald Eagles

        Denise I remember seeing a bald eagle or two I believe in Wisconsin. When I was a boy there was a lot of news about them being endangered. I think they are doing a lot better now?

        1. Denise


          The Bald Eagle population is doing much better. Being in Eastern Iowa, it’s not far (for an eagle) to get this way from the Mississippi River. And, of course, Iowa has the famous Decorah (Iowa) Bald Eagle cam.

          1. Thanks Denise, I lived in Decorah a summer (’99), was not aware of the Bald Eagle cam. I really like that town and part of the country in general, very interesting culturally, plus big farm country.

        2. bald eagles

          This fall and winter I have seen a couple bald eagles a month in Montgomery and Parke counties here in west-central Indiana.

    2. Jane F Thompson


      I’ve always loved birds,and still have my great uncle’s bird identification cards. My interest has peaked since my husband started photographing the birds at our nearby Celery Fields, as well as on Sarasota Bay. Our birds are as exotic as those we saw in the Galapagos (where his passion for wildlife photography was incited) and they are much easier to get to!
      No woods-tramping for us, and the pay-off is peace and tranquility.

      Since the Celery Fields were once an Amish celery farm, it’s only fitting they be included in this discussion, wouldn’t you say?

      1. Celery

        Glad you mentioned them Jane. I remember reading about the celery fields when looking into the history of Pinecraft. I haven’t heard too much of Amish in the celery business but I’m going to ask my Amish produce people about that next week 🙂

        No doubt you get some interesting birds in Florida.

    3. Birding

      I am a lifetime avid birder. I do not use any fancy equipment, though I do sometimes manage to get a photo of something unusual. I can see quite a lot of bird activity from my office window since moving to the mountains of Northern California. This area is known for its biodiversity. A few years ago at Thanksgiving there were hundreds, maybe thousands, of bluebirds in the nearby trees. We have many species, from the Golden Eagle to tiny hummingbirds. Wild turkeys can be seen along the roads. Canadian Geese migrate through and we even see egrets in local stock ponds. Seeing a pair of little Lazuli Buntings is a special treat.

      1. NC is a good climate for hummingbirds. I tell people in Poland about that and they can hardly believe it. Seems so exotic.

        Canadian Geese overpopulation I think is a problem in some areas now? They are thriving at our little area lake. The local crew of ducks seem to be losing.

    4. Bird Lab. At Cornell U.

      Here you can also sign up for a newsletter.

      We are fortunate to live within easy driving distance from the Ornithology Lab at Sapsucker Woods near the Ithaca Airport.

      Wonderful place to spend some time.


    5. Margaret

      I, like you, found watching the birds boring in the beginning, but once I saw the beauty through Uncle Bill and Aunt Joy’s eyes, I, too, saw the beauty.

      My husband’s aunt and uncle were Mennonites that settled in McPherson County, Kansas. They lived on the same farm that Uncle Bill’s parents had settled upon arriving from Germany. They both passed away in the last 2 years at 95. They built a house with a VERY large picture window overlooking 2 100+ year-old walnut trees with bird feeders and bird houses everywhere. We would sit and watch the birds there for hours. It was amazing how many different kinds of birds visited their “sanctuary.” We both miss the solitude and beauty of their farm — and the view from their picture window — very much. But, mostly, we miss them….

    6. Merry

      Amish & Birding

      I’ve recently read two books by David Kline, an Amish Farmer near Fredericksburg, Ohio.
      The first was, “Great Possessions: An Amish Farmer’s Journal” and the next was, “Scratching The Woodchuck: Nature on an Amish Farm.” Both are delightful books and chock full of his keen observations of nature on and around his farm. I am looking forward to getting his third book, “Letters from Larksong.”

      Adding to the links George V provided ~ for those of us not fortunate enough to live in close proximity to the COL we can still participate in their “Project Feeder Watch” the next season will start in November 2012, but you can review the data they have about your from prior years. I love their section on how to distinguish species that are very similar. Who know there were so many varieties of finch, sparrow and warblers? I didn’t, a sparrow was a sparrow! LOL

    7. Roberta Klooster

      We aren’t birders either, but enjoy feeding them ~ one feeder is outside of the sunroom where we sit to eat when there are leaves on the trees (and it’s not too sunny). The other is outside of my kitchen window because the view is not attractive, so now I can watch the birds instead. I think my husband’s favorite is the hawk that lives close by and likes to hunt here. I’ve learned to identify him now. Wonder if we’ll have a many yellow finches this year? They seemed more attracted to someone else’s area last year.

    8. SharonR

      Amish Birders

      I can see where birding in the Amish communities would be a nice, family oriented amusement. I love to watch our birds come to the feeder, also, and know that when they bring their “young” to our feeder, they are doing just fine and thriving…..we also have a bald eagle’s nest in our neighborhood, and can see them flying about or perched on the tallest pine tree, or when they “fish” in our ponds. They return each year, also. Although I love the birds, and keep a bird book handy to identify the different species, I don’t do any bird counting. Along with birds, we have squirrels, raccoons, and an armadillo that share our “space” with us, even though we are in a development, they have adapted to being around people. Of course, the animals on the ground do not get fed!! They are on their own! Although a squirrel family might decide to sample the sunflower seeds our bird feeder and/or have a “discussion” about who was there first!
      Birding — an enjoyable pastime that brings smiles to our faces!

    9. I have tried bird watching once and it was very much like Eric described, boring, wet, cold and it was early in the morning (not a morning person). I like birds though and if I happen to see a rare one I truely enjoy it but I do not go out especially to look for them. I would love to see an eagle, her in Sweden that would mean a Golden Eagle or a Sea Eagle (White Tailed Eagle).

      I have a strange love for Mute Swans since there are only Whooper Swans where I grew up and they do not look like the swans in fairy tales which made me as a child believe that Mute Swans where not real birds and instead fairy tale animals like a dragon. The Swedish word for Whooper Swan is ‘sångsvan’, Singing Swan, isn’t that pretty?

      1. I agree Elin, great name. BTW, what do you call the little dot over the “a”? Have always liked that about the look of Swedish.

    10. Jessica G.

      I was out “birding” with my family this morning. Though all we saw were chickadees, ravens, magpies and geese!

      One thing I’m curious about – do Amish use cameras? I know they don’t pose for pictures, but would they use a camera to take pictures of birds etc?

      1. Do Amish use cameras?

        Good question Jessica. I don’t think camera ownership is very widespread among Amish but I’m sure some have them, at the least in their cell phones. I have asked Amish friends and acquaintances to take a photo for me (using my camera) on a number of occasions, I think I was refused only once. So some folks don’t have a problem with using a camera while others won’t want to even do that.

        It seems like capturing photos of birds would be a pretty harmless things but of course once you own the camera the temptation is to take pictures of things OTHER than birds, and that is probably why not many Amish own them. I could see a business having a camera to photograph products, say for a catalog or to forward on to a 3rd party web person. Not sure how explicit this would be in church rules or whether it is assumed that cameras aren’t permitted due to the general Amish aversion to having photos taken. I’m going to ask this in PA next week.

        1. David McConnell

          I frequently go out birding with Amish friends from all different affiliations and though they carry optics worth thousands of dollars, I have never seen anyone with a camera–for all the reasons you mention, Erik. But Amish birders do enjoy looking at other people’s photos of birds and they are astute judges of the quality of the many field guides on the market. I think it will be interesting to see if bird photography creeps into Amish life in the coming decade. I was told last week, for example, that the majority of Old Order Amish deer hunters now use trail cameras to document the presence or absence of deer at night on their properties.

          A brief story: I was at a birding conference in OH last summer with some Amish birders from the Andy Weaver (“Dan”) affiliation, and there was a booth at the conference where, for $5, one could pose for a photo–which would then be superimposed on a backdrop, as if you were pointing at the rare (probably extinct) Ivory-billed Woodpecker. My Amish friends insisted that I do this, telling me that church standards prevented them from posing for photos. Not only that, they offered to pay the $5 if I would give them a copy of the photo, which I did. So somewhere in Ohio Amish country, a photo of my virtual encounter with an Ivory-billed Woodpecker is circulating . . .

          1. $1 admission

            David, great story. And it struck me this may just be the latest clever Amish business idea–could it be the Andy Weaver guys are charging viewing fees to see the rare woodpecker? 🙂

            Animal photography sounds like an issue we might be hearing more about. I remember learning of the trail cameras a few years ago from a friend, though he may have been an early adopter. Interesting to find it is so popular now. Given that, and knowing Amish appreciation for wildlife, the prospect of a camera must be pretty tempting for some birders.

            By the way, every time I pick up An Amish Paradox, I find a highly interesting nugget. It’s obvious a lot went into that book.

    11. Birding

      I must admit that I love birds. I have just never had much time to actively search them out. Cardinals, blue jays, sparrows and chickadees seem to thrive in my area, as well as the tufted titmouse (love them)and mourning doves which I adore. We had a many chambered feeder right outside the kitchen window and I was really excited one day to see a bird that looked like a robin but with mixed up coloration. In actuality it was a rufus-sided towhee. Never saw another one. I did see a red tail hawk rather close up one day in the Wellsboro area of PA.

    12. Slightly-handled-Order-man

      A favorite bird/pest

      Sometimes Canada Geese can be a pest here too, and make certain places, like beaches or parks (or perhaps even parking lots) where they frequent become unsanitary for people. We take pride in the birds because of the patriotic name and the neat formations and en mass style in which they fly, oh and the honk is cool, too.

      1. Canada Geese running the show

        It’s nothing personal SHOM but the local crew of Canada Geese seem to be growing in confidence as their numbers expand around the lake. I was running down there the other day and noticed a distinct goose strut. I hope it remains safe for small children and housepets 😉

    13. Joan Sheldon

      bird watching

      I love my birds and have enjoyed feeding and watching them for many years, until this past fall, when the rats took a liking to the bird seed and moved in, so I had to stop putting out the bird seed. All I have out now is suet for the woodpeckers, jays, chickadees and nuthatches. I miss the rest.

    14. Å or å is a letter, the sound is similar to the vowelsound in words like caught or taught, it was originally a way of signalling a sound which which was a combination of a and o, the little ball above the A is in fact a very small o. Now, as I said it is a letter of its own. We have all the letters of the English and in addition the letters å, ä and ö but we only use q and w in names or words borrowed from other languages.

      1. Åwesome

        Thanks Elin, I enjoyed this explanation. I had no idea it was actually a little “o” living up there 🙂

    15. I live in Southern California so I don’t see many Bald Eagles; I do, however, see many Crows and Ravens. In fact last night when I was walking to my car a flock flew over in that beautifly “V” formation that birds have and they were “cawing” as they flew by. It was so beautiful, I had to stop in wonder and a lot of emotion when they flew by. That always gets me.


    16. Rich Stevick

      It's about time!

      After how many years, Erik, you have finally landed on an important topic:) As an avid birder, I have had a number of opportunities to bird with outstanding Amish birders, some as recently as last week here in birdy Pinecraft/Sarasota Florida where birds and Amish snow-birders meet. On Saturday past, I drove a “load” of Amish birders around Sarasota County for half a day. They were the high bidders on a birding trip I offered on the Haiti Auction silent auction board. We had great weather and great sightings, logging over 70 species in our limited time together. It always wonders me why everyone is not a birder: birding combines bloodless hunting with gawking and talking. I also wonder why there are so few avid Amish birders in Lancaster County compared to impressive numbers of Amish birders in Ohio and Indiana, for example. I think I could count on one hand the number of practicing birders in Lancaster Co. (BTW, I don’t buy the too-busy-working answer b/c many Lancaster Amish have plenty of time–and money–to hunt and fish, both locally and at great distances.) I’m still puzzled by this discrepancy so feel free to post your hypothoses. Rich Stevick P.S. Erik, Just kidding about finally coming up with a good topic. I think I remember a couple others over the years 🙂

      1. One hypothesis

        Rich, what can I say, every 1,000 posts or so I get lucky on one or two!

        I thought about you and the Pinecraft Pauper and the birding reports when I was doing this post. Will we see it again?

        Thanks for confirming what I thought about Lancaster and lack of birders there. Maybe all the birds have simply left the county due to overcrowding from city folk. 😉

      2. Keith Summers

        To Rich Stevich

        Are you by chance a brother to Harry from Pitcairn?

    17. Rare Bird Magnets

      Here in Ohio, the Amish in the eastern half of the state are Rare Bird Magnets. 😀 Several of our rare birds in the past year or two have been at Amish houses in the East Central Ohio area. Plus two Amish kids spotted a Kirtland’s over at Magee Marsh this year…If I could, I would just follow them around all day, I would see, and photograph, a lot more. 😀

      1. Thanks Steve, I have heard similar stories–lot of eyes on the sky in an Amish birding family!

    18. MKJ

      Re: birds and birding in Lancaster co

      Birds require habitat, and from what I understand, after centuries of settlement and high birth rates Lancaster co land is now at a premium. To the point that grown sons don’t have options to farm, and people are turning to puppy mills for $. Etc. In such a situation, any acreage that could be put into use to give a son a farm, likely would have been done. Thus, habitat gone. Also the use of petroleum based fertilizers and pesticides killing off the insect population birds need for food, manure contaminating streams and ponds, etc surely affects the area’s viability for wildlife.