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Birdwatching is not just for the birds!

Updated on July 9, 2013
Baby Mourning Doves
Baby Mourning Doves | Source
Killdeer eggs from the field in front of our house. They were so well camouflaged that I would never have seen them if the mother had not been nearby.
Killdeer eggs from the field in front of our house. They were so well camouflaged that I would never have seen them if the mother had not been nearby. | Source
This egg was abandoned. I think it was a Mourning Dove, but I'm not positive.
This egg was abandoned. I think it was a Mourning Dove, but I'm not positive. | Source
Carolina wren babies in a nest in a plastic bin in our lean-to outside.
Carolina wren babies in a nest in a plastic bin in our lean-to outside. | Source
The Big Year
The Big Year
A hysterical accounting of birders' attempts at "the big year" - counting the most species in one year.


Birding or birdwatching is a wonderful hobby that can be enjoyed by all ages. It became one of my favorite pastimes when my family started camping about 10 years ago. Now I hardly go anywhere without my binoculars and my bird book.

Birdwatching may be as simple as watching the birds in your backyard or it can be as complicated as traveling all over the world to view different species. The choices are unlimited.

I love attracting different kinds of birds to my yard and birdwatching at home. Placing different kinds of feeders with different types of food have brought great results. Adding numerous birdhouses in varying sizes and shapes has been fun, too.

Feeders for the Home Birder

The easiest way to enjoy birds at home is to add a few birdfeeders with a variety of seed in strategic locations in the yard. Look up your region in a bird book like Stokes and see what kinds of birds live there or pass through during migration. Then you can plan out what kinds of feeders and seed will attract them.

My favorite choices (for where I live in the Southeast United States) are a suet cake feeder, a tray feeder, finch feeder and "squirrel-proof" feeder.

Suet Cake Feeders are coated 4 x 4 wire grid boxes that hold homemade or premade "cakes" of seed and animal fat. There are many recipes to make your own but to save a lot of mess I buy mine premade for about $1.20 or so each. I hang a double-sided one of these feeders on my front porch. Common visitors include: downy woodpeckers, tufted titmice, Carolina chickadees, Northern cardinals and Carolina wrens.

A Tray Birdfeeder is basically a sturdy window screen about 12 x 12 inches that is edged in wood, has a wooden crossbar with a long screw poking up through the middle. I put a variety of seed and/or fruit in the tray feeder. Sunflower seed, sunflower mix, stale bread and old grapes are just a few things I put out for the birds. I poke either an orange or an apple half on the end of the screw. Our mockingbirds love it. The tray feeder is great for larger birds that have difficulty perching on smaller feeders, although smaller songbirds enjoy it, too. Luckily we don't have a squirrel problem at our house, otherwise the seed and fruit would be gone very quickly. We do have an adorable chipmunk, however, who visits occasionally. A raccoon and an opossum have dropped by, too.

The Finch Feeder in my yard attracts primarily goldfinches and house finches. It is a tall thin feeder with two perches and holds thistle (or niger) seed. Finch feeders could also be a "sock" or long plastic tube that holds the seed.

Beginning in mid-April, I put out at least two hummingbird feeders. I place them on opposite sides of our front porch. Since hummingbirds are highly territorial, this allows more hummers to feed. I have one simple clear plastic hummer feeder with a red bottom that has four feeding ports. The other is an attractive narrow wine bottle-looking feeder with a metal bottom and 4 feeding ports.

I never buy hummingbird nectar. It's much cheaper and just as easy to make my own. A mixture of 4 parts lukewarm water to 1 part white sugar makes enough sugar water for both of my feeders. There's no need to use red food coloring to dye the water. I've found that the hummingbirds like it plain. We enjoy watching what I call "hummer wars," when the birds aggressively protect "their" own feeder.

Home Sweet Home - For the Birds

Do you want more birds to visit you at home? Add some birdhouses in different sizes and shapes. I have about eight of them at different points on our property. Four bluebird houses, two gourds and two other houses are scattered around. Carolina wrens and chickadees enjoy these homes - and it's first come, first served.

I purchased one of the gourd houses at a craft show several years ago. It's painted bright yellow with a flower design around it. The other gourd I used in a fall display at home. I dried it out and my husband drilled an entrance hole in the front and some smaller drainage holes in the bottom. We have a bird family in it but I haven’t yet identified what type.

You don't necessarily have to have a birdhouse for birds to nest at your home. I know of two others we have had that were quite a surprise. When trimming the camellia bush at the corner of our front porch, I startled what I thought was a mourning dove and she flew away. It turns out that it was a robin and we have a nest with three beautiful turquoise blue eggs in it. She has since gotten used to all the activity on our porch but remains wary - as a good mother should.

For two seasons in a row a mockingbird built a different nest in the same bush. She was extremely protective and "fussed" at me at very close range on many occasions.

One weekend, I picked up a partially empty bag of potting soil that had been sitting for months at the side of our house. A bird flew out - I still don't know what kind. There's a deep nest inside with four tiny brown-speckled white eggs in it. Needless to say, I put the bag back and went out and bought some new potting soil for my garden project. I later discovered that it was a Carolina wren. The babies were so cute!

Birds are everywhere!

Birding doesn't have to be confined to your backyard. There are many ways to enjoy birds in all sorts of places and in a variety of ways.

~ Check out your local chapter of the Audubon Society for community events (like the Christmas Bird Count and Backyard Bird Count) near you at

~ Search for new birds on your vacation to . . . wherever!

~ (Attempt to) photograph the birds you see and post on a blog. Connect with other birders to learn about birds in other parts of the country (or world).

~ Participate in a bird-banding event.

~ Take a class on ornithology. I have learned a lot about raptors and other birds from attending workshops at Wilderness Wildlife Week here in Pigeon Forge, TN each January.

My constant enjoyment of bird-watching has infected my husband, son and my 74 year old mother. We all notice when a new bird enters our yard and grab the bird book and binoculars! Birdwatching in your backyard is fun and educational!


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