- Pets and Animals
Bird Watching: A Beginner's Journal
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!
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!
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
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.
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?
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!
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."
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.
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!
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!
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!
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