Making An Observation

Andrew Scaboo has found a passion for bird watching

As a soybean breeder, Andrew Scaboo describes himself as an observational scientist.

It’s a personality trait that has transitioned into other aspects of his life. While finishing his master’s degree at the University of Tennessee, Scaboo and his wife received two bird feeders from family members. Scaboo installed both in their backyard – and the observation soon began.

“It’s just something in my personality,” Scaboo said. “I enjoy observing things and taking notes. I think it’s why I’m a plant breeder.”

Scaboo, a University of Missouri College of Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources assistant research professor who also leads the Northern Missouri Soybean Breeding Program, enjoyed seeing the different species of birds stop in his backyard to grab some grub. He learned about which seed the different species would eat and saw baby birds come to the feeder as they got older.

This American Golden Plover stopped right outside Scaboo's office at the Bay Farm recently. The American Golden Plvoer is only found in Missouri a few weeks a year. They breed in northern Canada. and winter in Argentina. Photo courtesy of Andrew Scaboo.This American Golden Plover stopped right outside Scaboo’s office at the Bay Farm recently. The American Golden Plover is only found in Missouri a few weeks a year. They breed in northern Canada. and winter in Argentina. Photo courtesy of Andrew Scaboo.

“It was a lot of fun to see the different species,” Scaboo said. “I really enjoyed feeding them and just watching how they interacted with each other.”

The bird watching opportunities expanded further when Scaboo went to the University of Arkansas for his doctorate. He lived just a half mile from a brand new wastewater management treatment facility. That’s when the Scaboo’s bird watching became a full-fledged hobby. He bought a pair of binoculars and started recording what birds he was encountering.

“As part of that facility, they mitigated 30 acres as a wetland, short grass and prairie area,” Scaboo said. “An ecological restoration company was contracted to do the restoration, and that group contracted numerous biologists. They were conducting a bird survey when I first arrived, which was exciting to be a part of.”

Scaboo said there were around 20 species of birds and around 40 species of plants when he first arrived. When Scaboo left Arkansas nearly five years later, they had documented more than 180 birds and 400 species of plants.

The area is now an Audubon important bird area.

“There are a lot of important species observed there,” Scaboo said. “It was an exciting time, as we were finding bird species that had never been seen before in northwest Arkansas.”

Scaboo has seen around 300 different species of birds since he began actively watching. He is what the watching community calls a patch birder – someone who enjoyed revisiting the same location over weeks and years.

“I’m not really looking for that rare bird,” Scaboo said. “I have my favorite areas and enjoy seeing the same environments. It’s fun to get to know the bird life in these areas. There are a lot of changes that go on during the year.”

Scaboo does frequent national parks but enjoys the comfort of familiar spots.

“If you go to the same area once a week for five years, you really start to notice things,” Scaboo said. “I have my favorite areas and I enjoy what I know. When something changes, it really sticks out.”

Scaboo said the Bay Farm and the Bradford Research Center are both ideal locations for bird watching. Between the two, there are more than 150 species to be discovered.

“Both places are fun to watch birds,” Scaboo said. “There is great habitat here for birds to stop and reenergize.”

The migration season is a great time to see a variety of birds. As they travel, they’re always looking for food sources. Birds obviously have a great sense of direction, as Scaboo said there is a lot of research showing that the same birds return to the same locations during migration.

“It’s not like the birds can call Siri and tell her to find that backyard that they frequent every year,” Scaboo said. “It’s all instinct.”

An eagle nest with baby eagles.This family of eagles lives at South Farm Research Center. Photo courtesy of South Farm.

Conservation is key when it comes to keeping the bird population strong. Scaboo said there is less than 1 percent of the prairies left across the United States, leaving few places for birds to stop during their long migration.

He mentioned the bald eagle population as a great example of the good that can come from doing little things to help the populations.

“We see quite a few bald eagles in this area now,” Scaboo said. “You wouldn’t have seen that 50 years ago, as they were on the endangered list. It just shows you what conservation can do. We figured out the problems and made the correct changes.”

Scaboo said there are a few common birds in Missouri, including the starling. He added that there are several good sparrows around the Columbia area. Missouri is a good birding state overall, as one of the main migration lanes is the Mississippi River flyway.

“All of this makes you realize, and I hate to sound cliché, that there is so much in the natural world that we don’t understand,” Scaboo said. “We get caught up in our day-to-day tasks and don’t observe everything going on around us.”