Watching the birdies

I was never much of a bird-watcher. I liked them and enjoyed feeding them, but except for ooh-ing and ah-ing over the odd goldfinch or bluebird that dropped by for a snack, I wasn’t overly interested in the types of birds that visited my backyard.

That changed over the last few years as I visited the local state park more often and took more frequent walks along the area nature trails. The more shore birds, hawks, falcons, and songbirds I saw, the more interested I grew in learning to identify them. I downloaded Merlin Bird ID, The Cornell Lab of Ornithology bird identification app, and entered the birds I spotted. Then I started watching the birds that fed in my backyard a little more closely, the ways they interacted and the different foods they preferred, and decided I wanted to learn more.

Project Feederwatch is a joint program designed by The Cornell Lab of Ornithology and Bird Studies Canada to gather information about winter bird feeding across North America. The 2017-2018 program, which is the 31st season, began on 11 November, Veterans Day and runs until 13 April 2018. You select a portion of your yard as the count site, choose the days on which you will count, and follow the instructions about how to count and which birds to add to your tallies. Further details are available at the website.

Given that I have trouble telling some species apart, I plan on waiting to begin my observations until I work through The CLO’s online self-paced course entitled “Feeder Bird Identification and Behavior.” It begins today, 13 November. I dug out the old binoculars I inherited from my dad and set them near the south window overlooking the feeder site. I’m even considering buying a good camera with a telephoto lens so that I can take decent photographs.

I’m sure that this is all just a phase and I will be able to quit anytime I want to.


About Kristine Smith

Kristine Smith is the author of the Jani Kilian series and a number of SF and fantasy short stories, and is a winner of the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer. She worked as a pharmaceutical process development scientist for 26 years, but now writes full-time. She also writes supernatural thrillers under the name Alex Gordon. Check out her BVC bookshelf


Watching the birdies — 7 Comments

    • Yup. I raked leaves for decades until I learned that hey, I have shagbark hickory. And I was thrilled when native spring ephemerals started popping up in my shady eastside garden.

  1. Birdwatching is something you never outgrow or grow too old to enjoy.

    We have a regular flying circus in the back–especially when we put the feeder out in the autumn–after the bears have gone night night for the winter. We always buy cheap feeders because we lose one or more to the bears in the spring. The birds don’t care how pretty or fancy the feeders are, as long as they are full.

    • I’m spoiling my lot with the fancy low-waste feed–cashews, peanuts, larger corn kernels. The jays especially love the tray feeder because I set the tension on the squirrel-proof feeder–yes, it does work–so it closes for birds their size.

      Of course, the jays learned that if they flappedtheirwingsrealhard, they could shovel food out of the feeder, then dine on the ground at their leisure.

      • I actually learned to recognize how different species of hummingbirds flew and courted, since I had to hang the feeder in shadow to avoid bees (which were Africanized and rather hasty if they felt threatened by you.) I am also tempted by the idea of a camera on the feeding area. I see a dangerous hobby brewing for us!

        I tried Merlin Bird ID but it could not handle the huge hummingbird migration I had 2015-2016 in SE Arizona. It didn’t like my iPhone, either–got too big for it.

        I will take another stab at it when I finally settle.

        Costco has a nice sunflower/safflower seed mix, and the price is good. (Phyl, rumor has it Wild Byrd will replace feeders that break. Will they cover bear damage?)

  2. Where I live in southwestern Oregon we enjoy the annual fall departure (and spring arrival) of large flocks of Buzzards. These large, ungainly-looking birds gracefully cruise our summer skies in small groups or as singles looking for dead critters to gorge upon. When fall approaches they gang up in large ungainly groups, loosely organize themselves – unlike geese and ducks who are almost militaristic in their precise flight patterns – and head off in a loose formation to Mexico for the winter.
    Their sudden appearance in a similar fashion months later is a harbinger of impending warmer weather.