Backyard Birding BasicsPosted by Whole Earth | 06.19.2020
Backyard Birding Basics
During the past few months we’ve gotten to know our neighbors better than ever before. People we used to recognize by their cars, we now greet every day on our morning walks. And we’re getting to know our non-human neighbors as well, especially the ones with feathers.
Have you been watching birds in the yard? Some are fairly easy to recognize like the red bird, also known as the Cardinal; the squawker, aka the Blue Jay, and the coo-er or White-Winged Dove. But mixed in are others like those little gray and brown birds whose names we don’t know though they’re very interesting to watch. Just as we’ve come to know our neighbors’ names, the time has come to learn more about our neighborhood birds.
Where to begin? For those of us here in Texas, we like Birds of Texas Field Guide by Stan Tekiela. Its organization by color makes it good for beginners. Is the bird in question yellow? Turning to the section on yellow birds, we learn that we’ve just seen a Lesser Goldfinch! The book also has range maps and facts, as well as other possibilities if the identification doesn’t seem quite right. Tekiela also tells us what each bird eats, very useful information if you’re looking to lure more birds to the yard.
An ideal yard for a bird includes fresh water, food, trees and shrubs for roosting and nesting, and native plants that can also provide food. It’s easy to hang a birdfeeder and see who shows up for dinner. But we can also fine tune our offerings to invite birds we might not otherwise see. This time of year, bird parents appreciate our help in feeding their families, and we love seeing their frowsy fledglings coming to the feeder for a meal.
For many people, the bird they’d most like to see as a regular visitor is a Hummingbird. These feisty beauties are easy to invite into the yard. A Hummingbird feeder filled with sugar syrup can be irresistible. Siting the feeder is very important: it needs to be easily accessible but out of direct sunlight. Sugar syrup heats up quickly and spoils easily on hot summer days. Keeping the feeder clean is extremely important for Hummingbird health, but well worth the effort.
As we’re spending more time watching our backyard birds, we’ve decided a pair of binoculars might help us move up to the next level. Getting an up-close view is helpful for identification, and binoculars also help us to see what the bird is actually doing. For example, is that Red-bellied Woodpecker finding food or hiding it? Is it working on a nest hole or perhaps testing out a tree for a future home? With a good pair of binoculars, we can begin to understand more about the daily lives of our neighborhood birds.
Birding is a popular pastime and there are many excellent sources of information including websites. Cornell Lab’s All About Birdswebsite can help with identification, guidance for bird feeding, and answers to a host of frequently asked questions. They also have a free phone app, Merlin.
All About Birds and Merlin can be very helpful in learning to recognize your backyard birds by ear. Sometimes birds can be shy and retiring, hiding away in the foliage. But if we know their songs and calls, we can identify them even if we can’t see them. It’s nice to know that Carolina Wrens and Cardinals are early risers without having to get out of bed to take a look.
Here’s a final tip from a master birder. As we move on to watching birds beyond home, he suggests that we use our identification guide as a memory book. When we spot a bird for the first time, we should write down the date and the place on the page with the bird’s picture. This helps us to remember the bird by linking it to a particular time and place, and it transforms our field guide into a stroll down memory lane.
Learning more about our backyard birds can be fun and helps us to be more in tune with our environment. When you’re out in the yard or by a window, take some time to watch our feathered neighbors. It might be the beginning of a beautiful friendship.