Backyard Birdwatching

Goldfinch, Feeder, Bird, Wildlife

Hello, readers! One thing in my life that brings me joy is watching birds. My birdwatching is not done out in the wild, binoculars in hand, but simply looking out my kitchen window at the birdfeeder in my backyard. There is something very special about seeing all the visiting birds, and my family and I enjoy keeping a list of the different ones we’ve spotted. Some of them are regulars, and some we’ve only seen once or twice – just passing through, I suppose! So far there are 24 different species of birds on our list. It is amusing to watch their behavior, from seeing the male and female cardinals feeding each other, to watching one greedy hummingbird trying to chase away all the others. I also love hearing the very vocal Carolina wren singing on my porch railing, and noticing the bright color of the goldfinches daintily eating their thistle seed. And while I don’t use binoculars, I do find the zoom feature on my camera very handy!

Free photos of Bird
A blue jay shows off beautiful colors.

If you also enjoy this pastime, do you have a favorite bird? Here in the JCPL Circulation Department, we have a wide variety of favorites: tufted titmouse (Katie), crows (Jance), chickens (Nichole), blue jay (Jason), peacock (Tony), and black capped chickadee for me (although in our area, it’s more likely a Carolina chickadee that I’m seeing). Maybe you’re not sure about identifying different types of our avian friends, but our libraries can definitely help you with that! We have an assortment of bird identification books, such as Feed the Birds: Attract and Identify 196 Common North American Birds and Birds of North America (Eastern Region), as well as Identifying and Feeding Birds and Backyard Guide to Birds of North America, just to name a few. These books have excellent photographs and detailed drawings, which are invaluable in figuring out what bird you are seeing. 

This is my dream!

It is also possible to identify a bird by the sound it makes. You may be out walking and hear a bird before you actually spot it, and it is very satisfying to be able to recognize a bird in this way! We have books to help you with that as well, such as Know Your Bird Sounds and Birding By Ear; both come with an audio CD of bird songs. A favorite of mine is The Backyard Birdsong Guide; this book has a built-in, pushbutton module with all the bird calls. It was quite helpful to me when I was trying to identify a bird with a very distinct sound – it turned out to be a gray catbird

Birds, Snow, Bird Feeder, Feeder
A cardinal and a Carolina wren share a snack.

Having a birdfeeder is a great way to attract birds to your yard. The National Audubon Society has both the North American Birdfeeder Handbook and North American Birdfeeder Guide to help you choose the right one, as well as give you information about the birds themselves. What types of birds do you want to attract? Which food is best for those birds? How do you choose between all the different styles of feeders? These books can answer those questions and many more. Of course, you can also make your own bird feeder. Easy Birdhouses & Feeders has a wide variety of projects that can not only provide feeding spots, but nesting areas as well. Another excellent book, Projects for the Birder’s Garden, has 100 different ideas that include feeders and recipes for bird treats, but also water features and landscaping suggestions (more on that later). If you want something even easier, a pine cone bird feeder works very well; it simply uses peanut butter and bird seed  – and is a fun craft I did with my own children in their younger days. 

Cute, but frustrating!

One caveat regarding birdfeeders – it is important to keep them maintained and clean. It is possible for birds to get sick from an unclean feeder, and in turn spread disease to other birds. This article has some great advice on that subject. Another word of caution –  a birdfeeder can attract more than just birds. In our area, bears could be a potential visitor (although in all my years of feeding birds, this has only happened to me once). More likely, you will be able to add squirrel-watching to your activities! Yes, squirrels love birdfeeders just as much as the birds, and consider it a challenge to see how they can get their share of food. A few of them are content to eat whatever is dropped underneath the feeder, but others will plan some clever strategies to get up to the feeder itself. Their agility and jumping skills are really quite amazing! Outwitting Squirrels is a great book about the author’s adventures with squirrels in his feeder; the subtitle is “101 Cunning Stratagems to Reduce Dramatically the Egregious Misappropriation of Seed from Your Birdfeeder by Squirrels.” It is an amusing read, but at the same time, he actually tries out many different ideas, tests a variety of feeder styles, then reports his results. 

Great Spotted Woodpecker, Bird, Feed
Woodpeckers and other birds find insects in trees.

A birdfeeder is not the only way to bring the birds around. Maybe you just don’t want to bother with a feeder (or squirrels), or live somewhere that isn’t suitable for one, but you can still feed the birds! This article has great suggestions for creating an ecosystem of natural foods using just plants. This option is actually recommended more than using feeders and is beneficial in several ways; you can provide not only food, but nesting areas and places to hide from predators. It can also beautify your yard, so it’s a win-win for everyone. Flowers such as coneflowers, black-eyed Susans, and sunflowers are loved by birds; trees like our dogwood and redbud varieties, as well as oak trees and others, provide food and shelter. Most of the above-mentioned books have even more suggestions for creating a bird-friendly garden.

A tufted titmouse enjoys a berry.

Once you’ve decided how to invite birds to your yard, what kind of bird watcher will you be? There are actually specific types, according to your level of interest. A “bird watcher” is one who enjoys seeing the birds, and will be interested in identifying different ones, as a hobby. A “dude” is a more casual observer who just likes to see them, but identification isn’t really the main focus. A “lister” is a bird watcher who keeps track of the birds that have been spotted (this would be me). A “birder” is the most serious of the lot, not merely identifying, but actively being on the lookout for specific or rare birds – to the point of traveling long distances to areas where a sighting is possible. 

Snow, Storm, Winter, Birdfeeder, Birds
Birds especially appreciate extra food in winter.

I hope you are now inspired to give more than a passing glance to the birds you might see each day. While January 5th is National Bird Day, and February is National Bird Feeding Month, you can enjoy birdwatching all year long. Take the time to look and listen to the many feathered friends that live around you; maybe you’ll even pick your own favorite bird. Whatever type of bird watcher you become, I think you’ll find it relaxing and entertaining. It’s guaranteed to put a smile on your face – and no binoculars required!