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Outside/In: A Beginner's Guide to Backyard Birding

Taylor Quimby

With so many of our favorite outdoor activities currently off-limits, we’re looking for accessible ways to explore the magic of nature from the safety of our homes and neighborhoods. This is the first in a series of short episodes for families and individuals who want to discover how, even when we’re stuck inside, the natural world ties us together.

Credit Outside/In
For more downloadable (and free) bird coloring pages, visit

There is a kind of bird watching, or birding, where people travel all over the world to see as many types of birds as possible. It’s basically a sport, and it takes money, time-off, and a lot of bird know-how to do. 

[Note: If you’d like to learn more about the sportier side of bird-watching, check out our episode The Early Birder Gets The Worm.]

But there’s another type of bird-watching that anybody can do, from the comfort of a backyard, or even a kitchen window, without any special tools or bird expertise at all. All you need is your ears and/or eyeballs, a notebook, and maybe a couple of cardboard toilet paper tubes.

If you listen to this story and decide you’d like to try a little backyard bird watching, here’s a look at the free app that Bird Diva Bridget Butler suggested you use to identify the birds you see. Outside/In has also posted free downloadable coloring pages here. And to learn more about the Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s citizen science programs, click here.

Then, when Outside/In producer Jimmy Gutierrez learned about the "insect apocalypse," research that suggests a sharp decline in insect biodiversity across the globe, he was thrilled. Bugs are disgusting creatures, he thought, and he couldn't see much of a problem with a world with fewer flies and mosquitos. But he still wondered, is the data about insects truly so dire?

"There's not enough of us out there to collect baseline data on insect populations," said Jessica Ware, an entomologist at Rutgers University. She noted that most scientists would agree that something is happening,  but that more studies are necessary.

"The benefits of funding more taxonomists, more long-term ecological and evolutionary studies of insects... would be amazing. It could transform what we do as humans," said Ware.

Ultimately, Ware suggested that public interest in insects is a good thing. But how can Jimmy learn to love the fly?

Credit Sam Evans-Brown
Jimmy Gutierrez holds a Madagascar hissing cockroach

"When children see grown-ups who aren't afraid of insects, it makes them comfortable to explore the things they're curious about," said Ware.

"Go outside and catch bugs," said Crystal Meier, a coleopterist (she studies beetles) and entomology collections manager at the Harvard Museum of Natural History. "They're everywhere! They're in your backyard, they're on the street, they're on your lawn, they're on campus... you turn over a log and there's a whole ecosystem waiting to be discovered."

This broadcast of Outside/In includes work produced by Taylor Quimby, Sam Evans-Brown, and Jimmy Gutierrez, with editing support from Justine Paradis.

Outside/In is a show where curiosity and the natural world collide. Click here for podcast episodes and more.
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