If you’re looking for a reason to leave your dwelling for some fresh – albeit cold – air, follow Adina Keeling as she accompanies avid birder Jake Cvetas on a quest to find feathered friends by the lakefront. The two set out in November (before omicron, ruined holidays and below-zero temps), and Cvetas served up some helpful strategies and observations for bird-watching.

When he’s not studying for his mechanical engineering courses, Northwestern senior Jake Cvetas, 21, grabs his camera and binoculars and heads outside, in search of birds. On a chilly Sunday, I joined him for a morning of bird-watching.

Cvetas and I began our birding adventure by walking down Arts Circle Drive on Northwestern’s campus. Cvetas plucks a catkin, a cylindrical flower cluster, from one of the birch trees we pass, explaining that these frequently attract a type of finch called a pine siskin. Unfortunately, the trees were bare this morning.

Next, we headed toward the university libraries. On the way, Cvetas explained that most people associate bird-watching with older generations. But websites like eBird have helped popularize this hobby among young people.

Cvetas and I spy a white-throated sparrow in some dirt near Main Library. He pulls out his Canon 70D camera and snaps a couple of pictures.

While taking photos of the sparrow, Cvetas tries to get as close to the bird as possible without scaring it off. He squats to take the photo from a lower angle.

Cvetas and I continue on our search for birds. We follow chirping noises from a nearby bush. Using a technique called pishing, he tries to bring the bird into view. This technique involves making a “pshh” or “pissst” sound while keeping one’s teeth closed. It typically attracts small birds, like sparrows, finches or kinglets.

Unfortunately, the pishing failed to bring the bird forward. Cvetas peers inside the bush to see if he can find it, but the bird remains hidden.

Eventually, Cvetas and I give up on our search to find the source of the chirping. He tells me that he recently found a golden-crowned kinglet that was injured after hitting a window. He picked up the bird and placed it in his pocket, where it was warm and dark. He immediately took the kinglet to a friend’s house and waited for it to regain its strength before releasing it to the outdoors.

“You gotta look up and you gotta listen,” Cvetas says as we continue our search. He says he’s surprised by how few people actually look up when they walk.

After a long morning, Cvetas reviews his photos. He’s happy with the way they turned out. Our outing was a success!

Adina Keeling

Adina Keeling is a photojournalist and reporter, covering city news, sustainability, schools, and art. She also investigates mental health systems and environmental injustices in Evanston, and puts together...