Flying High

Birder’s passion helps her soar

Each morning, Sigrid Schmidt looks out her window for American goldfinches, black-capped chickadees, and northern cardinals — common yard birds that make her heart sing. So, too, do migratory birds and more unusual species, such as the endangered piping plovers she helped monitor in Chicago.

“Birding is a wonderful, wonderful hobby,” says Schmidt, 72, of Chicago’s North Center neighborhood. “You meet wonderful people who have the same values about nature and conservation.”

Schmidt’s passion for birding first took flight at an early age. She remembers her mother pointing out birds in their Whiting, Indiana, yard, including a ruby-throated hummingbird rapidly beating its wings as it drank nectar from flowers. 

Many years later, as an adult, Schmidt rekindled her passion by visiting Montrose Harbor in Chicago, considered one of the best places in the Midwest to watch birds.

“You meet wonderful people who have the same values about nature and conservation.”

“I noticed a whole flock — pardon the pun — of people staring at the top of trees,” she recalls. Schmidt got up the nerve to ask someone what they were seeing. They pointed out a Blackburnian warbler, a 5-inch-long migratory bird with a fiery orange throat.

After that, Schmidt began birding regularly and eventually became president of the Chicago Ornithological Society from 2005 to 2009.

During the past two summers, Schmidt monitored the endangered piping plovers, Monty and Rose, that nested on Montrose Beach. She and other volunteers educated the public about the plovers and encouraged more people to become birders and conservationists. 

For Schmidt, birding is one of the best hobbies for a retired person. Anyone can get involved. “You can do as much or as little as you want, and it motivates you to stay in shape and volunteer to help the environment,” she says. “There is always something to look forward to.”

Above image: Sigrid Schmidt. Photo by Karen Kring