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Bird Watching: A Beginner's Journal

Updated on August 17, 2014

Backyard Birds

When I was a kid, our suburban backyard was visited by fairly common birds for the area: Sparrows, Grackles, Starlings, Robins, and Cardinals. I remember my mom and her aunt competing in an annual ritual of "who saw the first Robin." Robins were, in their opinions, desirable birds. For some reason, Grackles were not. I understand it may have been because Grackles can be cannibalistic, but my mom adored hawks, and let's face it, they enjoy a songbird dinner, too.

Now that I live in a more rural area, with open spaces and various habitats reasonably nearby, I'm getting firsthand experience with a greater variety of birds. I'm no expert and am looking up bird facts as I go along. Please come back often to see the newest feathered additions to the page!


Wild Canaries

I was delighted to find Goldfinches frequented our backyard. The males are a vibrant yellow and are hard to miss in the landscape, despite their diminutive size of about 5 inches. Females and juveniles are more of an olive color. Putting out a thistle sock brought a steady stream of Goldfinches to the yard. And we've enjoyed their songs and persistent peeping.

My first autumn of watching Goldfinches, I thought they migrated. So, I put out a second sock to help them bulk up for what I imagined would be a long flight. Before long, it looked as though I had only females at the feeding station. I pictured the males going on ahead, choosing their families' winter destination. Guess what? Goldfinches overwinter, here, and the males' plumage changes from yellow to olive for the winter. But they all seemed to enjoy the large buffet I put out for them!

c. bossypants
c. bossypants

Red-Winged Blackbird

A Wisconsin Icon

Blackbirds are "one of the most widespread and numerous birds" in Wisconsin, according to author Stan Tekiela. Their chord-like call is hard to describe, but it's a constant theme in spring's soundtrack around here.

We live near a marshy area, which is a favorite habitat. It's easy to dismiss the blackbird, since they're so common, but seeing them is as sure a sign of the coming summer as spotting the first robin!

My Favorite Bird Book - A Great Resource for a Novice Birder

Birds of Wisconsin Field Guide, Second Edition
Birds of Wisconsin Field Guide, Second Edition

This field guide is just made for newbie bird watchers. Colored tabs on the page edges divide the book by the birds' predominant color. Then, within the color sections, the birds are organized from smallest to largest. It's easy to find the bird you spotted and learn more about it from the short, easy to understand text. Search for your state name and the word "birds" to find a similar guide for your area.


What do think? - Is Bird Watching for the Birds?

Do You Enjoy Watching Wild Birds?

Yes. They Are Wonders of Nature.

Yes. They Are Wonders of Nature.

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    • BrickExpert 4 years ago

      I'm learning to enjoy them more and more.

    • flashkid 4 years ago

      Yes. It has been my hobby since I was a child

    • AlleyCatLane 4 years ago

      Absolutely! My computer desk sits where I can look out my French doors onto the patio where I have a birdbath and feed the birds. I have been photographing them with my new camera. I had three new visitors in the past two days which I am trying to identify for my squidoo article. I enjoy them immensley.

    • Bellezza-Decor 5 years ago from Canada

      I do, in fact if we didn't get birds in our garden I would sorely miss them. We get Orioles, Cardinals, Blue Jays, Cedar Waxwings and of course Hummingbirds.

    • Jereme Causing 5 years ago from Philippines

      Yes . I would like to see a robin. Birds I usually see here in the Philippines is the Maya, a common bird. We seldom see pigeons and doves. Most of those types of birds are being taken care like love birds.

      Sometimes I enjoy throwing rice grains to birds... and chickens too :)

    • SteveKaye 5 years ago

      I go out almost every day to take photos of birds.

    • Anthony Altorenna 5 years ago from Connecticut

      I really enjoy bird watching, and we encourage birds to visit our yard by hanging different types of bird feeders and birdhouses.

    • anonymous 5 years ago

      I love watching birds. They are so cute, some are pretty and while others are just beautiful, then some are majestic. I'm glad we have so many different kinds of birds to watch.

    • JoshK47 5 years ago

      From time to time, I certainly do... not necessarily in a hobby way, but I definitely enjoy them.

    • kathysart 5 years ago

      Love little birdies.. their personalities are HUGE!

    • jlshernandez 5 years ago

      Bird watching has become one of my favorite hobbies-- it is relaxing, fun, and a learning experience. Hummingbirds are my favorite birds to watch in my backyard.

    • gottaloveit2 5 years ago

      Yes, it gives me something to point out to my aging Mom. She loves the "red birds"- cardinals. It costs me a fortune in bird seed though to bribe the suckers to my window!

    • MartieG aka 'survivoryea' 5 years ago from Jersey Shore

      I am a beginner bird watcher in the bird watching mecca of the US! I am learning though

    • anonymous 6 years ago

      I sure do!

    • Evelyn Saenz 6 years ago from Royalton

      I love watching birds. This year we had Gold Finches at the feeder.

    • jseven lm 6 years ago

      I love watching birds. My brother-in-law makes big, beautiful bird house feeders and has binoculars to sit and watch the birds from their living room in the country. It captivated me whenever I visited them.

    • gottaloveit2 6 years ago

      Birdwatching is a necessary past time over here for my elderly Mom. We both love the birds and the squirrels.

    • annamari 6 years ago

      Whenever we see a cardinal, it is a special treat.

      I often hear and enjoy different birds singing in the morning----very early morning!

    • Diane Cass 6 years ago from New York

      Oh Bossy, welcome to the wonderful world of birding! I've been an avid bird watcher and identifier a science trip I took in college...a 3 week camping and hiking trip in the Sierras to study the flora and fauna of Yosemite, the Sequoias and Mammoth Hot Springs. I will never forget the day we were hiking in the Sequioas when this GORGEOUS, orange and yellow landed on a branch in front of us. I said, "OMG, what is that?". The teacher showed me how to look it up in the guide book and I've been doing that ever since. The bird was a Western Tananger, by the way. I look forward to hearing about your experiences with the birds.

    • anonymous 6 years ago

      My Aunt Nancy sent me to this site, always fun to read about birds. The robins are the bringers of spring here, and I named my daughter Robin after them as she was born in May

    • Nancy Carol Brown Hardin 6 years ago from Las Vegas, NV

      I don't get to watch very many from where I live, but every spring there's a few in the bushes and small trees here who sing their little hearts out. I always hear them when I let my little dog out in the morning, but as the desert heats up I guess they save their energy to get through the day. My niece in Minnesota is having a wonderful time watching the birds in her yard, and remarks on them all the time. Hope she sees this when I FB like it!

    • Peggy Hazelwood 6 years ago from Desert Southwest, U.S.A.

      I love bird watching. I prefer the birds of the Midwest to these desert birds though.

    • Ann 6 years ago from Yorkshire, England

      I DO!

    • Pam Irie 6 years ago from Land of Aloha

      I'm always so impressed by people who "know their birds".

    • Monika Weise 6 years ago from Indianapolis, IN USA

      Birds rock!

    • anonymous 6 years ago

      I love watching birds! I have a huge window in my living room and outside I have planted a variety of things that attract birds and butterflies. There is a constantly-changing scene there. Better than television!

    No. Birds Are a Messy Nuisance.

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      • ChrissLJ 6 years ago

        No, but my dogs do. Plus I have an elderly neighbor I like who does, so I plant flowers that attract both birds and butterflies and put seed out in the feeders.

      • Cinnamonbite 6 years ago

        I don't have the patience or the interest. My grandparents watched birds, took care of birds, fed birds for my entire childhood but I just can't seem to care much. I like birds ok, but...meh.

      c. bossypants
      c. bossypants

      Baltimore Oriole

      Oncommonly Orange

      What a thrill to see a Baltimore Oriole in our yard! I didn't have to look this one up to identify him, but it's always fun to learn more about the birds I see.

      Did you know Orioles eat caterpillars? I've seen Oriole feeders, which hold sweet liquid, in the stores. I wonder if I should get one for our yard?

      c. bossypants
      c. bossypants

      Brown Thrasher

      What a Song!

      I heard the Brown Thrasher long before I saw him. And, after I got my first glimpse and consulted my favorite bird book, I found out why. The male Thrasher has been documented to sing over 1,100 song types!

      Thrashers are a somewhat ordinary looking bird, but what a repertoire! The songs certainly got my attention and I dropped everything to run for the binoculars and bird guide!

      c. bossypants
      c. bossypants


      The Backyard Commoner

      Sparrows are a common little backyard visitor, and almost everyone has seen them and can identify them. There are actually several varieties.In my yard, the House Sparrow and American Tree Sparrow seem to be the most common, but I've also seen the Chipping Sparrow (named for the sound it makes, it seems) and the White Crowned Sparrow which has long white stripes along its head, from front to back. Although I most often see them on the bird feeder, these two were relaxing on our deck when I caught them with the camera.


      Winter's Crimson Color

      Cardinals are favorite backyard visitors. I don't think I've heard of anyone who doesn't love seeing the bright crimson of a male Cardinal, especially against winter's snow. Their distinctive color and the upright tuft of feathers on their heads make Cardinals easy to spot and identify. Females are a more tawny color, but equally as beautiful.

      Cardinals don't have a particularly musical call, mostly a repeated loud peep bird watchers describe as "what a cheer cheer cheer."

      c. bossypants
      c. bossypants

      Mourning Doves

      Pigeons' Cousins

      Mourning Doves are ground feeders. Their gentle cooing can be soothing to some and annoy the heck out of other folks. With their sweet soulful round eyes and their sombre buff coloring, they always seem like such a gentle backyard visitor!

      Red Bellied Woodpecker

      Red on the Head, Too

      I guess it was because the name Red-Headed Woodpecker was taken, but there's a lot more red on this Woodpecker's head than on its belly! Truly, the Red Headed Woodpecker's head is completely red, down to its neck, where this bird has as much white as red on its head.

      The Red Bellied Woodpecker is a reasonably large bird, at 9 1/2 inches. Along with its size, the red on the its head and the bold stripes on its wings make the Red Bellied Woodpecker an easy bird to spot and identify. When this one isn't in one of our trees, it wraps itself around the suet feeder for a meal.

      c. bossypants
      c. bossypants

      Yellow-Rumped Warbler


      Isn't she a little cutie? I'm always grateful for any distinguishing marks to help me identify a bird.

      The bird book shows the male Yellow-Rumped Warbler with a darker eye mask, and a yellow spot on his forehead. He's also got more vivid black and white coloring. But, I think this female is quite a beauty, even if she more muted in color.

      According to my bird book, they rarely come to suet feeders, so I was extra lucky to get this photo!

      c. bossypants
      c. bossypants


      A Common Backyard Blackbird

      Not everybody's favorite bird, the Common Grackle is a large black bird of about 12 inches. The Grackle's head feathers are a pretty iridescent blue and Grackles have bright yellow eyes.

      According to Stan Tekiela, author of my favorite field guide, "Birds of Wisconsin," the name Grackle comes from the Latin "graculus," which means "to cough" and references the Grackle's rough loud call. Grackles often take up lots of room on feeders and tend to make a mess, flinging seed about. (Ground feeders, like the Mourning Doves, don't seem to mind!)

      I've heard Grackles will cannibalize other birds' nests, which makes them unpopular with songbird enthusiasts.

      Junco (shown with female Cardinal)

      A Bird in Formalwear

      The Dark-eyed Junco (on the left in this photo) more often feeds on the ground than from the feeder. My mom loved seeing Juncos and used to say they looked like they were all dressed up. We only see them in winter, here, and they are easy to spot against the snow.

      According to Stan Tekiela, in my favorite bird book, Juncos consume many weed seeds. In that case, they can dine in my yard any time!

      Yellow Warbler c. bossypants
      Yellow Warbler c. bossypants

      Yellow Warbler

      A Summer Visitor

      When I took the photo of this little guy, I thought he was Goldfinch that just hadn't gotten all his color yet. Later, I was flipping through my bird book and realized I had a picture of a Yellow Warbler.

      Yellow Warblers are insect eaters, so I'm a little surprised he was even near my feeder. Perhaps he was interested in the leftover suet, which some other insect eaters seem to like. What a treat to see him!

      c bossypants
      c bossypants


      by bossypants

      All photos in this lens (with the exception of advertising and links) were taken by bossypants. Please don't copy or use photos or content without permission. Photographs may be pinned or used with attribution and a backlink to this page.

      What Birds Frequent Your Yard or Neighborhood?

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        • BrickExpert profile image

          BrickExpert 4 years ago

          Lots of quail!

        • LilyBird profile image

          LilyBird 4 years ago

          Robins, Stellar Jays, Cedar Waxwings, Flickers, Downy Woodpeckers, Finches, Sparrows, Crows, Chickadees, Osprey, Bald Eagles, Canada Goose, Mallards, Great Blue Herons (there's a lake close by). Great lens - thanks!

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          RuralFloridaLiving 4 years ago

          Anhingas, sandhill cranes, mockingbirds, cardinals, cattle egrets, herons, woodstorks, skimmers, swallows, roseate spoonbills, mallards, turkey vultures, eagles, caracaras, hummingbirds, kites, blue-winged teals, red-winged blackbirds, meadow larks, wrens, robins, blue jays, pigeons, doves, quail, and painted buntings, off the top of my head.

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          flashkid 4 years ago

          koels, kites, coppersmiths, kingfishers, rock pigeons,

          There is more variety at the lakes nearby

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          anonymous 4 years ago

          Lots of cardinals here in Arkansas. Love the hummingbirds, too. Great lens.

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          AlleyCatLane 4 years ago

          Sparrow, brown thrashers, bluejays, cardinals, carolina wrens, and others I haven't identified yet.

        • EMangl profile image

          EMangl 5 years ago

          sparrows and finches are regular visitors

        • profile image

          myamya 5 years ago

          Great lens, nicely done! Thumbs up!

        • jeremecausing profile image

          Jereme Causing 5 years ago from Philippines

          I enjoyed a lot and learned something new from your lens . :)

        • Sylvestermouse profile image

          Cynthia Sylvestermouse 5 years ago from United States

          I truly enjoy watching our backyard birds. We mostly have cardinals, mockingbirds, bluejays and sparrows. Lovely pictures!

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          SteveKaye 5 years ago

          We live in Southern California. Our yard attracts mostly House Finches, House Sparrows, Lesser Goldfinches, and Mourning Doves. Even though these are common birds, we enjoy watching them.

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          Anthony Altorenna 5 years ago from Connecticut

          Of all the birds that visit our yard, I like the bluebirds, wild turkeys and woodpeckers the most.

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          JoshK47 5 years ago

          I don't notice any particularly interesting birds around my neighborhood, just the usual Southern birds... bit they're still rather cute and fun to watch.

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          kathysart 5 years ago

          Lots of doves and some sweet sparrows.. more I am sure but don't know their names. Angel blessed lens.

        • gottaloveit2 profile image

          gottaloveit2 5 years ago

          Iced in over here in MD but the birds are well fed at least.

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          Annamadagan 5 years ago

          Fun lens! I love watching and taking pictures of birds.

        • jlshernandez profile image

          jlshernandez 5 years ago

          Hummingbirds, robins, bluebirds, sparrows and some others visit often. But the hummers love to build nest on my geranium plants.

        • gottaloveit2 profile image

          gottaloveit2 5 years ago

          Great lens, Bossy. Love the information here. Birds rule! If we're lucky, on very snowy days, we get a flurry of bluebirds atop our hot tub lid which stays warm. So cute to see the angry looking suckers.

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          Teri Villars 5 years ago from Phoenix, Arizona

          I live in Arizona so there are some very tough birds out here. When I was a kid, the birds used to find me...if you know what I mean. ha! Squid Angel blessed!

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          Peggy Hazelwood 5 years ago from Desert Southwest, U.S.A.

          A little bird told me tweet this one for you! chirp chirp!

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          anonymous 5 years ago

          Hi bossypants,

          I enjoyed your lense. Love the birdies! We get Sparrows, and lots of different black birds, and doves.

          N T T

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          anonymous 6 years ago

          Last winter I started feeding birds on my balcony and they would even wander into my apartment though the open door where I had a little food in a box on the floor. I loved the experience but soon learned that they are just too messy for that.

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          ChrissLJ 6 years ago

          Up until last year I had 3 humming birds... two male and a female. Several turkey vultures live next door. Chickadees, sparrows and finches are fairly common. And of course living in Missouri, we have the infamous cardinals. Legend has it here that if you see a male card, it's a sign of impending uninvited company.

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          Tracy Smith 6 years ago from Maryville, TN

          I've seem many interesting birds lately on my way to work. I think some of the other drivers think I'm wierd as I slow down to take a look but the mother Turkey and four babies are glad I slowed down.

        • jlshernandez profile image

          jlshernandez 6 years ago

          Hummingbirds love to build nests in my garden. I don't really know why but I just consider myself blessed. There are a lot of robins, bluebirds and small yellow birds, but I am not sure what these are.

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          pawpaw911 6 years ago

          Love the goldfinch photo.

        • evelynsaenz1 profile image

          Evelyn Saenz 6 years ago from Royalton

          One of my favorite birds to frequent my neighborhood is the Piliated Woodpecker.

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          dani_wong33 6 years ago

          i had alot of it at my house :) its made my house like a zoo :lol

        • gottaloveit2 profile image

          gottaloveit2 6 years ago

          Wait! Where's the 'roll' button these days!!! Is it gone?

        • gottaloveit2 profile image

          gottaloveit2 6 years ago

          Wonderful birding pics. Rolling this to my birdwatching lens.

        • ellagis profile image

          ellagis 6 years ago

          There's a nice Great Tit feeding in front of my window!

        • ajtyne profile image

          AJ 6 years ago from North Carolina

          I love birds, and have 4 zebra finches right now. Love watching them anywhere, anytime. But I'm hopeless about what kind they are -- I know cardinals and blue jays and robins. The rest (in my mind) are either sparrows, crows or some kind of hawk. I guess I need to get the book and look them up, too. But just hearing my tiny finches or an outside bird is enough to set my world right, at least for a moment. And I love seeing them as much as any art. Thanks -- love the lens, love your photos.

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          Alohagems 6 years ago

          I have 2 lovely birds here and I enjoyed reading your article.

        • Diane Cass profile image

          Diane Cass 6 years ago from New York

          Bluebirds nest in our yard every summer. 4 babies just fledged from the birdhouse out back. House Wrens, House Finches, Cardinals, Robins, Mockingbirds, Goldfinches, Chipping Sparrows, Mourning Doves, Tree Sparrows, Tree Swallows, Red-Breasted Grosbeaks, Carolina Wrens, Red Tail Hawks, Red-Winged Blackbirds, Grackles, Killdeer, Cedar Waxwings, Downy Woodpeckers, Northern Flickers, Wild name a few.

          LOL! sounds like we live in a zoo.

        • Nancy Hardin profile image

          Nancy Carol Brown Hardin 6 years ago from Las Vegas, NV

          I'm not sure about my yard, but my daughter's yard has grackles, ravens, and bluebirds. i just love this lens. Thanks for sharing this Bossy!

        • bossypants profile image

          bossypants 6 years ago from America's Dairyland

          @annieangel1: Thank you for the blessing! The photos are mine. Thank you! I'm delighted to hear you like them. A little new here and I appreciate the advice. I appreciate your featuring my lens. You are so kind! Thank you!

        • Pam Irie profile image

          Pam Irie 6 years ago from Land of Aloha

          The most common bird in Hawaii (and our yard, in fact) is the myna bird. They travel in pairs (maybe they're insecure?) lol They can mimick human words too, but I only hear a bunch of squawking going on. There is a childhood song that my kids learned growing up here in the islands about the "sassy little myna bird"; I wish I could remember the words.

          I just gotta say one more thing....loved the story about how the goldenfinches outsmarted you for a bit there. How fun is that?! :)

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          Ann 6 years ago from Yorkshire, England

          well done. the only thing I would say is you need to give credits for your photos, are they yours? I love them. Angel blessed and it will feature in the wild bird lens published in June (when I get it done ;) )

        • Virginia Allain profile image

          Virginia Allain 6 years ago from Central Florida

          I'm in birdwatching paradise in Central Florida. We have sandhill cranes, osprey, egrets, storks, etc. I find birdwatching and bird photography fascinating and am adding more lenses on what I see. I'll be back to see what you add to this over time.

        • Frischy profile image

          Frischy 6 years ago from Kentucky, USA

          All the ones you have mentioned here, plus mourning dove, bluejay, crow, and we have a cooper's hawk in our neighborhood. I have seen cedar waxwing, scarlet taneger and I recently saw two birds in the backyard I have not identified yet. I enjoyed this lens!

        • Monika Weise profile image

          Monika Weise 6 years ago from Indianapolis, IN USA

          My favorite birds to watch are my parakeets, but I love robins, too!