Be that as it may, Ms. Mottolese is a self-proclaimed "bird nerd," someone who fills her five bird feeders before even feeding her three children in the morning. "My husband says I care about the birds more than the kids," she said. "But, for the record, that's not true."
Her fervor for feathered friends began in 1999 when a pal brought a bird feeder as a housewarming gift to Ms. Mottolese's new house in Darien, Conn. She and her husband, Michael, "filled it and waited to see what would come," discovering that some pretty oddball birds did indeed arrive, among them ringed-neck pheasants and wild turkeys. Buoyed by their bright beginning, the couple began to read Peterson Field Guides and Audubon Guides to determine what they could do to attract more unusual birds.
Ms. Mottolese then began her habit of making suet, a mixture she makes at least once a week by spreading bacon grease on a pinecone and then adding all kinds of kitchen scraps plus peanut butter, a real bird favorite. The birds also get the leftover fruit Ms. Mottolese picks up from the store and, on one morning this winter, fresh pancakes whipped up especially for them. (She claimed her kids had already eaten and there was batter left over ... )
"The birds in my yard eat like little gourmets," she said.
Her hard work has paid off. In her current home in New Canaan, Conn., Ms. Mottolese draws at least 35 species of birds to her backyard, among them the yellow-bellied sapsucker, the rufus-sided towhee (recently renamed the eastern towhee, she acknowledged begrudgingly), the red-bellied woodpecker and even a pileated woodpecker -- a dead ringer for Woody, she said.
The stakes for sighting a new species are high, lending a competitive edge to the otherwise passive sport. Ms. Mottolese and her husband play a mean game of one-upmanship to determine who sees a bird type first (and the caged rare birds seen on their annual trip to a butterfly park in Florida don't count). Ms. Mottolese proudly states that even while her husband -- a stay-at-home dad -- has more opportunity to see new birds, "I'm winning, I would say, by at least three species."
Her three daughters -- Riley, 6; Kelsey, 4; and Kailyn, 10 months -- get in on the fun, with Riley actually able to identify different species of woodpecker. The older kids each have their own red plastic binoculars, which come in handy on bird hikes the family takes along the Housatonic River as well as for catching sightings out the kitchen window. As an activity at Riley's recent birthday party, Ms. Mottolese bought plain brown wooden bird feeders for kids to paint themselves.
"We give bird feeders to others to get them to be bird nerds, too," she said.
Cellphone bird ringtones
At her Midtown Manhattan office, Ms. Mottolese hones her bird-call knowledge with two Takara Breezy Singers mechanical birds -- an American goldfinch and an eastern bluebird -- given to her as gifts. And if the bird-song tape she listens to in the car on weekend trips to Montauk weren't enough to secure her a place in the bird-nerd hall of fame, even her cellphone has bird ringtones. "Everyone knows I'm a geek as soon as my phone rings," she said.
Though she jokingly referred to a story about her birding habit as a "human-not-very-interest story," Ms. Mottolese is clearly proud and committed to her calling. If she wasn't, she wouldn't be out there in her parka on 5-degree snowy mornings shoveling paths to the bird feeders.
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Devoted to a worthy cause? Have an unbelievable vacation getaway? If you have a fascinating Off Hours activity, describe your passion in an e-mail to Mike Ryan at [email protected]