My Birding Story by Nanette Armstrong

Thank you, Dad

Purple Martin

My first experience with birds began in 6th grade. I had a teacher who liked birds and suggested that everyone hang up a bird feeder. This was 1972. We lived on a farm in West Virginia. My dad and I made a feeder out of old boards that he cut up with a chainsaw. It was large and bulky with a pitched roof. He ceremoniously cut a triangle window in the side. I hung it in the tree with baling rope. I filled it with horse & mule feed which is a mixture of grains sweetened with molasses. The birds came. They love it. But what were they? Howard, a boy that lived up the dirt road, saw the feeder and brought me an old Golden Guide bird book. It was a small edition, with a hard brown cover. Inside was lots of scribbling. I think Howard had swiped it from the classroom library. Back then each classroom had a little library on the back shelf. Howard’s little sister had taken a purple ‘marks-a-lot’ and colored in Purple Martin. Wow, a bird is purple? Despite the scribbles, the book enabled me to identify a few species: Black-capped Chickadee, American Crow, Cardinal, Meadowlark, and the most spectacular sighting of all—Rose-breasted Grosbeak. We tied a chunk of beef fat, after butchering time, on the metal lamp post so the raccoons wouldn’t climb up. We attached a broken stick with baling rope as a perch. Downy Woodpeckers arrived. It wasn’t until I was all grown up and married that I saw a Purple Martin, and when I did I thought of that little brown scribbled-upon book.

–Nanette Armstrong

This is the first in a series of articles contributed by our readers.

A note from Kay Hawklee:

How has COVID affected your life as a birder? Please share with us your story of how you used the time of social distancing to increase your love of birds.  Has it been a time to increase your knowledge and “take comfort in an activity you love?”  You might have found that birding alone offers a distinct kind of pleasure?  You might share a story while birding, a new birding spot or a simple wish for well-being. We want to open up the lines of communication since we can’t be together. Send your story to