The joy of birdwatching


It’s as if they’re telling you to stop and look around: journalist Jeannette Jonker tells us why she loves spontaneous little get-togethers with robins, jays, starlings and other birds.

It was my meeting with Dutch writer, comedian and bird enthusiast Hans Dorrestijn years ago that changed my view of birds forever. I was interviewing him about a bird guide he had written. Now and then he would jump up to peer out of his kitchen window with binoculars. “Look at that beauty!” he’d cry. I had no idea what to look at, but his enthusiasm was so contagious that I’ve been marveling over birds ever since.

Dorrestijn’s bird book (in Dutch only) begins with an ode to the long-tailed tits (Aegithalos caudatus). He writes that the birds are constantly in conversation with one other. He also explains that sometimes one might talk to itself, expressing how satisfied it is with its life: ‘Wonderful day, really wonderful day. Lots of tasty mosquitoes here. Those little ones with lots of juice’.


Everybody has their favorite bird, and mine is the robin (Erithacus rubecula). When one shows up, I drop everything to watch it — it is the most beautiful bird to me, because of its red breast, but also because of its perkiness. The British must feel the same way, because they made the robin their national bird. When I’m gardening, robins often come and watch what I’m doing. With casual aplomb, they observe me with just as much curiosity as I do them.

Recently while I was walking, two robins flew out in front of me. They seemed to be playing a game of tag, with one always chasing the other. My thoughts about work and family just melt away in moments like that, because I’m completely absorbed by what I see. A bird that suddenly appears can jolt me out of a hectic day and make me stop and watch what’s going on around me. I appreciate the unpredictability of it enormously.

  • Read the full story ‘For the birds’ in issue 32.

Text Jeannette Jonker  Photography Aditya Saxena/

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