I first read about “Bird of the Year” a dozen years ago, in Lyanda Lynn Haupt’s paean to birding, Rare Encounters with Ordinary Birds. She writes:
There is a game birders play on New Year’s Day called “Bird of the Year.” The very first bird you see on the first day of the new year is your theme bird for the next 365 days. It might seem a curious custom, but people who watch birds regularly are always contriving ways to keep themselves interested. This is one of those ways. You are given the possibility of creating something extraordinary — a Year of the Osprey, Year of the Pileated Woodpecker, Year of the Trumpeter Swan. This game is an inspiration to place yourself in natural circumstances that will yield a heavenly bird, blessing your year, your perspective, your imagination, your spirit. New year, new bird.
After her breathless anticipation, Haupt is confronted with… an Eastern Starling, or “sky-rat.”
The Year of the Eastern Starling. Inauspicious, yes, but not without its charms, according to Haupt.
Before heading to bed on New Year’s Eve, I ensured that all of the feeders were topped off and that corn and nuts were scattered for the squirrels. (As any seasoned backyard birder knows, there are no squirrel-proof feeders. Cheap feed scattered away from the feeders will (mostly) keep those furry nuisances away from the birds and the more expensive seed, though.) Last year, the Year of the American Goldfinch, I hung a Post-It on the big window to remind everyone to note his or her first bird. This year, I forgot the note, but it didn’t matter. The weather has been so warm that the window in my bedroom — and thus, the pleated blind — is often open a bit each night. I saw the first bird of the year before I had even left my bed: a house sparrow hopping and chatting with his friends in the yew hedge.