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How to Be a Backyard Birdwatcher

Posted on July 9, 2021

How to be a backyard birder

There is never a bad time of year to be a birdwatcher. Birds are everywhere in every season. The easiest place to begin birding is your backyard.

 

The best way to attract a variety of birds is to plant native flowers, grasses, trees, and shrubs. Just as with pollinators, native vegetation gives birds food and shelter. With the right plants, birds will feed, bathe, nest, and breed in your yard making it easy for you to see and identify them. It’s a win/win!

 

Also like pollinators, birds are vital to an ecosystem and are being challenged by climate change. Birds are losing habitat as plants struggle to cope with unpredictable and extreme weather events. Drought, flooding, and wildfires negatively affect plant life cycles and all the wildlife that depend on them. Insects, leaves, and seeds are unavailable for food when birds migrate through or settle in for summer or winter.

 

How to attract birds to your yard

There are several things that can help you lure birds to your yard to study them while helping them cope with climate change.

 

As I said, native plants will give birds appropriate food and shelter. A wide variety of plants offer nectar, fruit, seeds, and greenery and attract insects that birds need to eat. Their energy needs are especially high during migration and mating season.

 

Use the Audubon Society native plants database. Plug in your zip code and get a list of suitable plants for your yard and the birds that will visit them.

 

Put out clean water for drinking and bathing. Anything that holds water will do, from a store-bought birdbath to shallow dishes with a few small rocks in them for perching. Birds drink out of the 5-gallon buckets I have placed for water catchment. Be sure to get a heated birdbath for winter or put fresh water in the dishes every morning.

 

Get the Merlin app from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology to find out which birds are regulars to your area. Again, you plug in where you live and get a list of birds you can expect to see in a certain season.

 

How to identify birds

Merlin is an excellent way to ID birds, too. Enter basic information about a bird you see, and you’ll get a list of possibilities with images. You can also upload your own photo or recording of a song or call to use for identification.

 

Ebird is another app from Cornell. Keep records of your sightings here. Birders around the world input birds they see if you ever want to take birding further afield.

 

If you’re not app savvy, get a good field guide, such as Sibley (also an app now) or Crossley.

 

If you’re artistically inclined, use a sketch pad to record what you see. Take notes about size, color, behavior, and time of year. Start a nature journal and add weather, plants in bloom, and other observations.

 

Buy some good binoculars, too. Mine are always handy for that unexpected moment when I see or hear a new bird. I also have a camera with a telephoto lens for getting close-up photos without bothering my subjects. I shoot right through the kitchen window to my feeders, then study the birds’ features to identify them.

 

Gather all your gear before fall migration begins next month. And learn to be patient, sit quietly, and move slowly. Much birding is watching and waiting.

 

Bird feeders

Once you find out what birds will frequent your yard, study them. Go to Cornell’s All About Birds or Audubon’s Guide to North American Birds and find out what they eat. Put up feeders of seeds, nuts, and fruit to satisfy their nutrition requirements and supplement their natural diet.

 

Most birds like black oil sunflower seeds. You can’t lose putting up a feeder of sunflower seeds. Some birds like thistle seed, and some like peanuts. Some need high-fat suet, and others need fruit. An orange cut in half is a feast for berry and nectar lovers. Different types of food may need different types of feeders.

 

Hummingbirds

Summer is a good time to watch for hummingbirds. Right now, they’re beginning their migration back to Mexico after leaving their breeding grounds as far north as Canada.

 

Hummingbirds like tubular red flowers and special red feeders filled with sugar water. Completely dissolve a cup of plain white sugar into a quart of water. Keep this mixture in the refrigerator so it doesn’t spoil.

 

Empty the feeder, clean it, and refill with fresh mix every week, unless the hummingbirds have finished it off!

 

Find out which hummingbirds come to your neighborhood and begin your new birding hobby with these fascinating and beautiful birds.

 

 

By Nan Fischer

Nan Fischer is a food and garden writer based in Taos, New Mexico. She is the founder of the Auntie Nannie’s Taos Seed Exchange and owns a small organic nursery, nannie plants. She’s been published in GRIT magazine, Green Prints, the Taos News, and is a regular contributor to Mother Earth Gardener.

 

 

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