Don Torino’s Life in the Meadowlands: Life Birds

original1.Rough-legged HawkBirders are like most people; our fondest memories revolve around family, friends, and events that have brought us joy and pleasure throughout life’s delightful and sometimes difficult journey. But birders are also blessed with wonderful reminiscences and recollections of their very own special birds, or what is known as “Life birds.”

What is a life bird? Put simply, it is a species that a birder has seen and identified in the wild for the very first time in their life. It can be any bird species that the birder sees for the first time. Each person’s life bird list is an individual creation based on where they live or travel and what birds may be located in their home range.

A life bird can even be a list based on a specific area, from all over the world or just the backyard. Wherever the sighting, it is a very special occasion when a birder is fortunate enough to add another life bird to their list. For many of us, including myself, the most memorable life birds have been in the Meadowlands.

I recall my first Barred owl peering down at my brother and me from a tree limb in Teterboro woods. The owl’s piercing, dark eyes will never be forgotten and the memories of my late brother and I birding together will always be with me. Also etched in my mind is my very first male Northern Harrier. Wandering a Meadowlands trail on an early, wet and windy fall morning I came to an opening in the Phragmites and met the “Gray Ghost” starring right at me from just a few feet away, and I’m not sure who was more surprised.

I recall like it was yesterday when I saw my very first Rough-legged Hawk perched in a tree along a snow covered Meadowlands field, and of course the Snowy Owls over the years will always be special to all who made it to places like DeKorte Park to make them their very own life birds.

Life birds are not just simply something that is added to a page in a book, an app or computer and then left to itself and forgotten. They are birds that we will brag to our grandkids about and daydream about when we get too old to wander the Meadowlands trails. They live in our hearts and have become a significant part of our life. They are our memories, ones we recall with delight and at times with much examination and considerable contemplation.

Life birds recall special times in our lives, not only about seeing the birds but also the people in our lives we enjoyed them with and the wild places we have all come to love. Life birds are just that, birds that have become part of our lives and stay in our souls forever.

If you have a special Meadowlands Life Bird and would like to share it let me know at


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