Thursday, January 10, 2013

The Backyard Is a Good Place to Start!

It's winter and easy to get in to a slump with birding when all you want to do is close your eyes and wait for Spring! When people think of backyard birds, they think of the typical feeder birds such as Northern Cardinal, Blue Jay, Black-capped Chickadee, American Goldfinch - common visitors if you keep your feeders full and depending on the type of food and feeders you put out for your feathery friends.

But backyard birding can present some interesting surprises and winter is a good time to start if you try the following:
  • Start a running list of every species you observe in and around your property - but don't limit yourself to JUST the backyard. Our 'rule' is anything heard or seen from our yard! (So when we had our first Common Nighthawks fly over the neighbourhood in migration a couple of years ago, that counted as a "backyard" bird!) - the excitement of adding a new species to the list makes you hope for more! Plus it's fun to look back at the date you first observed a species and to check what you don't have yet! (but maybe should).
  • Put out a couple of different types of feeders in your backyard to encourage variety - for example, a nyger seed feeder attracts finches, siskins and redpolls; nectar attracts hummingbirds, sunflower seeds (or a seed/corn/nut mix) attracts chickadees, nuthatches, sparrows, and juncos; feeders dedicated to peanuts attracts woodpeckers and nuthatches. You get the idea.
  • Ensure that you have a pair of binoculars in the house that are designated for your backyard surprises don't want to be running out to your car to grab your only pair when you might miss your chance to confirm an identification!

Rob and I moved in to our home at the end of March 2010. So far we have listed seventy-four (74) species for our backyard list to date. It's always helpful to think of the the habitat that is around your home that may help to explain the variety (or lack thereof) of birds observed. While we do live in a standard urban subdivision that is about 14 years old, we have a few natural features nearby that work to our advantage. First there is the small deciduous woodlot behind our house. Second, we are only about 300 m east of the Speed River and about 850 m west of a larger wooded/wetland community.

Our Backyard

Our most memorable 'backyard' birds to date:

  • Chukar - "Chuck" stuck around our backyard feeders for several days! First observed on May 12, 2012. Although he was technically not 'countable' because he was an escapee species, he provided some excitement.
"Chuck" the Chukar
  • Common Nighthawk - September 3, 2010 (first observation) 
  • Pileated Woodpecker - First observed in the woodlot behind our house on November 7, 2012 and has been seen/heard regularly every since!
Blurry photo of our Pileated Woodpecker
(and if you look closely to the right there is a Red-bellied in the same frame!)

  • Wood Thrush - May 4, 2012 (sadly, he was not heard during the breeding season so I guess he was just a migrant) 
  • Scarlet Tanager - June 28, 2012 
  • Blackpoll Warbler - October 6, 2011 
  • Common Redpoll - December 23, 2012 was a memorable new entry when we had a nice flock of about 50 Common Redpolls congregate in a tree behind our house. A few of them even came down to the fence and feeder to find out what we had to offer, but that was before Christmas which meant that Rob had yet to be given his Christmas gift of a second feeder pole that was going to be for our niger seed feeder! We're hoping it's not too late and that word will spread to the redpolls that we've got something for them!

For such a small woodlot, we have had six species of woodpeckers! Red-bellied Woodpecker, Hairy Woodpecker, Downy Woodpecker, Pileated Woodpecker, Northern Flicker and Yellow-bellied Sapsucker.

Black-capped Chickadee at our peanut feeder

So if you don't feel like heading to Niagara River this winter and freezing your fingers off like 'some' crazy winter birders (smile), get your feeders stalked up and sit on your couch with a warm cup of coffee and wait for the birds to come to you (without leaving the house)! :)