Field Notes from Our Executive Director, Cindy Adams

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Cindy Adams is the Executive Director at Scientists in School – but did you know that she’e also an ecologist, botanist, and avid birder?

When Cindy saw her first Rose-breasted Grosbeak with her own set of binoculars at the age of seven, she didn’t realize that this would set her on a path of birdwatching for years to come.

Cindy recently chatted with us and reflected on why birding continues to spark her interest all these years since spotting that colourful Grosbeak with her dad by her side.

Rose-breasted Grosbeak.

Why do you love birding?

It’s a combination of things for me. I love the discovery process, observing things closely to separate species that resemble each other. It’s the unexpected findings in unexpected places that bring the most excitement: a Wood Duck perched in a tree, an elusive Hooded Warbler, a flock of Bobolinks. It is the not knowing what you will encounter while out on a walk and then being wonderfully surprised!


When I’m outdoors birding, I’m in my happy place. It draws me outside hiking, enjoying the changing of the seasons. A new season brings with it, new birds. Winter is a wonderful time for birding, and I particularly enjoy the changing duck species in the area of southern Ontario that I live in. The diving ducks that spend spring through fall in the Arctic, migrate to warmer southern inland waters in the winter. And just as they depart, the dabbling duck species (they feed with their bottoms up and heads under) are returning to our area having spent their winter in warmer climates.

Birding also sparks other discoveries – butterflies, dragonflies, bees, and wildflowers. I love golfing, too, and golf courses are great for interesting bird sightings. But of course, my fellow golfers don’t much appreciate it when my eye follows a tree or a marshy area instead of my eye on the ball…

Is this a shared passion or something you like to do on your own?

I share this passion with my husband, Jeff, who didn’t grow up with it as I did, but luckily my interest has rubbed off on him. I also have lots of friendships through birding. It can be a very social experience. During the spring bird migration, we head to places like Point Pelee, where the diversity of species, especially warblers, is fantastic. We like to ‘bird’ when we travel and choose destinations where the birding is really wonderful. But urban environments, including Toronto where I live, are home to several hundred bird species.

Two memorable trips have been Tanzania, Kenya and the Galapagos Islands. During this lockdown period we’ve kept a “COVID-lockdown Bird Sighting List” – separate ones for different timeframes. Geeky, eh?!

From an ecological standpoint, what do you love most about birding?

I love that knowledge of birds also fuels a greater understanding. When people get to know something personally, whether it’s a bird, an amphibian, or a plant species, they understand its importance in nature and how it links to other species. It strengthens your belief in habitat protection – locally and globally.

Our songbirds here in southern Ontario spend their winters in South America and the southern United States. Protecting the disturbing number of species in decline means focusing on all of the flyways and geographic areas that they depend on.

What has been the most interesting bird you have seen?

This is the impossible question! The Blue-Footed Booby in the Galapagos Islands was definitely a favourite, from their courting dance and spectacular dives, to their bright blue feet. Such a cool bird!

Blue-Footed Booby.

Owls are also really interesting – especially the tiny ones – Saw-whet, Screech Owls and Boreal Owls. I’ll never forget finding two of these species tucked into the same conifer on a winter walk.

But to be honest some of the plainer birds that are really elusive and hard to distinguish really grab my interest, too. I was teased on our African safari because I’d spend as much time watching the wide variety of hard-to-tell-apart little birds (my travel companions called them little brown birds), as I did the lions and elephants.

Can you share any tips with us?

You will be most successful identifying birds if you learn their songs – knowing their unique trills, chirps and calls will help you identify who is on the telephone pole or in the underbrush, even before you locate the music-maker with your eyes.

Learning the behaviours of different bird species is also helpful and fascinating – for example, knowing the flight pattern of a goldfinch helps you identify what you are seeing, even if they are too far away to see their colouring.

I also highly recommend investing in a good pair of binoculars. The better optics make a world of difference to the sharpness and amount of detail you can see!

Discover the joy of birding for yourself!

Get the whole family involved in Backyard Bird Watching by printing our Backyard Bird Watch activity sheets. Attach these photos of common Canadian birds to a window or clipboard and let the bird watching adventure begin!

Watch a Spotlight with Scientists in School interview featuring biologist Myles Katz known as Canadian Myles. Myles shares his knowledge and appreciation of nature and also has some fun trying to identify bird calls during our first Spotlight gameshow.

Explore our video series, “Discover Your STEM Career”, and learn more about exciting careers for bird enthusiasts.

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