A side benefit I’ve discovered about gardening is birdwatching.
While sitting on my back deck watching my flowers grow, I’m often distracted by the many variety of birds I have visiting.
I couldn’t resist the urge to get out my camera and snap some shots. So, I grabbed my trusty Nikon D5600 with the 70-300mm zoom lens. I began hand holding the camera and later pulled out my tripod for a more steady shot. I used fast shutter speeds to freeze their motion.
I’ve had this birdfeeder around for several years (it was one my mother had), and I decided to buy some bird seed to put it into service. I hung the birdfeeder alongside a hanging flower basket on a Shepherd’s Hook in my backyard that was visible from my office window.
While at first I didn’t pay much attention to the species of birds visiting, I soon wanted to identify those visiting. There seemed to be quite a variety and I wanted to know more about them. Like gardening, birdwatching and bird identifying is NEW to me.
Thanks to All About Birds for help in identifying these birds and information about them. All the photographs on this page are linked to a higher resolution version. Just click on the images for the enlargements.
The male Northern Cardinal is perhaps responsible for getting more people to open up a field guide than any other bird. They’re a distinctive shade of red you can’t take your eyes off. I sure enjoy watching this bird.
Even the brown females sport a sharp crest and warm red accents. Females resemble males, including the face and bill, but are predominantly pale-brown overall—varying from buffy to grayish—with dark reddish-brown wings and tail, red in the crest, and a variable pinkish flush elsewhere on the head and body.
Nearly any bird feeder you put out ought to attract Northern Cardinals, but they particularly seem to like sunflower seeds. I replaced my cheaper bird seed for a mix with more sunflower seeds in the hope to attract more Northern Cardinals.
The active little Downy Woodpecker is a familiar sight at backyard feeders. An often acrobatic forager, this black-and-white woodpecker is at home on tiny branches or balancing on slender plant galls, sycamore seed balls, and suet feeders. Downies and their larger lookalike, the Hairy Woodpecker, are one of the first identification challenges that beginning bird watchers master.
They prefer suet feeders, but are also fond of black oil sunflower seeds, millet, peanuts, and chunky peanut butter.
This common, large songbird is familiar to many people, with its perky crest; blue, white, and black plumage; and noisy calls. Blue Jays are known for their intelligence and complex social systems with tight family bonds.
Blue Jays prefer tray feeders or hopper feeders on a post rather than hanging feeders, and they prefer peanuts, sunflower seeds, and suet. Blue Jays lower their crests when they are feeding peacefully with family and flock members or tending to nestlings.
The pigment in Blue Jay feathers is melanin, which is brown. The blue color is caused by scattering light through modified cells on the surface of the feather barbs. The black bridle across the face, nape, and throat varies extensively and may help Blue Jays recognize one another.
I originally had a difficult time positively identifying this bird. There are some visual differences, but most sources say it’s the same bird: a House Sparrow.
The females and young birds are colored pale brown and grey, and males have brighter black, white, and brown markings.
You can find House Sparrows most places where there are houses (or other buildings), and few places where there aren’t. These are some of our most common birds. House Sparrows are so closely entwined with people’s lives that you probably will find them around your home even without feeding them.
They are frequent visitors to backyard feeders, where they eat most kinds of birdseed, especially millet, corn, and sunflower seed.
This is said to be a pretty common bird at backyard bird feeders, but I haven’t seen many. I believe his red coloring indicates he is a male. The red of a male House Finch comes from pigments contained in its food during molt. So the more pigment in the food, the redder the male. This is why people sometimes see orange or yellowish male House Finches. Females prefer to mate with the reddest male they can find, perhaps raising the chances they get a capable mate who can do his part in feeding the nestlings.
European Starlings are among the continent’s most numerous songbirds. They are stocky black birds with short tails, triangular wings, and long, pointed bills. They can be pretty abundant and aggressive. Covered in white spots during winter, they turn dark and glossy in summer.
Starlings are common around cities and towns. For much of the year, they wheel through the sky and mob lawns in big, noisy flocks. Look in lawns, city parks and squares, and fields. They’ll be working their way across the grass, often moving in a slight zig-zag line and seeming to hurry as they stab their bills into the ground every step or two.
Starling’s often come to bird feeders.
American Robins are common sights on lawns across North America, where you often see them tugging earthworms out of the ground. Robins are popular birds for their warm orange breast, cheery song, and early appearance at the end of winter.
Robins eat different types of food depending on the time of day: more earthworms in the morning and more fruit later in the day. Because the robin forages largely on lawns, it is vulnerable to pesticide poisoning and can be an important indicator of chemical pollution.
A graceful, slender-tailed, small-headed dove that’s common across the continent. Mourning Doves perch on telephone wires and forage for seeds on the ground; their flight is fast and bullet straight.
Mourning Doves tend to feed busily on the ground, swallowing seeds and storing them in an enlargement of the esophagus called the crop. Once they’ve filled it (the record is 17,200 bluegrass seeds in a single crop!), they can fly to a safe perch to digest the meal.
Common Grackles are blackbirds that look like they’ve been slightly stretched. They’re taller and longer tailed than a typical blackbird, with a longer, more tapered bill and the adults have glossy-iridescent bodies. Grackles walk around lawns and fields on their long legs or gather in noisy groups high in trees, typically evergreens. They eat many crops (notably corn) and nearly anything else as well, including garbage.
These guys are becoming quite nuisance as they come in flocks and run off the other birds around the feeder. They also scoop out the seeds from the tray and knock them to the ground where even more flock to take in the goodies. I tried a different feeder that was smaller in the hope the big birds wouldn’t feed there. But, they still kept a comin’.
My first impression when I saw these Grackles was the one was being aggressive to the other. Moments later it became apparent the female was calling on the male to feed her.