Mornings Are For the Birds

(Dateline: Des Moines, 5:55 a.m.)

Just so we’re all clear, I could easily sleep 12 – 14 hours at a stretch back in my 20s and 30s. The mere thought of stirring before the crack of noon was an impossibility on weekends or if I had a day off.

Now, like any other cool, crisp summer morning, I’m up and writing outside just as the sun breaks the horizon.


No, it’s not because I’m old. (Rude.) It’s because I’ve become consumed with birds, which—you’re right—kinda coincides with, um, getting old. (Still rude.)

I can’t tell you when my avian switch flipped. One day I was minding my business as a 40-something writer, and the next day, I had downloaded the incomprehensibly invaluable Merlin bird app. You push a button and it immediately tells you what bird is chirping, squawking, cooing, or singing within earshot.

When I mention said app to friends or colleagues, I get two reactions. The first is disbelief, like I’ve just described teleportation to Mars or something. They can’t believe such an app exists. But more times than not, the look is a mix of disdain and scornful malaise. It’s almost as if I’ve disclosed a raging drug problem—and my friends are trying their absolute best not to pity me.

Then, six weeks later, like clockwork, I discover they’ve since downloaded the app and become obsessed with ornithology as well.

My master plan—that was never really a plan—is working. I’ve become a bird pusher.

Some people get hooked on cocaine. Others on phonics. But there’s nothing quite like the rush of the Merlin bird app alerting you that a dark-eyed junco is nearby.

Have I gained an ear for identifying birds myself? No, I can barely discern the caw of a crow from a sniping blue jay. (The only bird I’m ever sure of is a mourning dove—because they distinctively—and relentlessly—coo from sunrise to sunset on my patio.)

The rush of the thrush.

When did I realize I had a problem, you ask? Last summer when I was in mountainous Big Fork, Montana, I got up before the sun to do some bird sleuthing. (That’s what I call it. Don’t judge.) Within 8.4 seconds, my phone lit up with ten birds I’d never even heard of. (Swainson’s thrush, anyone?) I nearly stroked out.

I have no doubt Cornell University—the makers of the Merlin app—will someday thank me for my relentless contributions to their technology. And for being such a huge advocate for their app. I’m fully expecting a plaque or bird trophy or something. I deserve it.