March 14, 2016

Backyard Birding

Start birding in your backyard

Watching birds visiting your feeders is a great way to practice bird ID.

Watching birds visiting your feeders is a great way to practice bird ID.

Experienced birders will tell you that good birding practice starts in your backyard. For many, the backyard is the center of birding activity year-round and the one place where many expect to see birds. The Backyard Birding pages include information on how to make your yard’s landscaping more attractive to birds, which feeders to put out, what types of foods to fill them with, and how to build your own birdhouses.

Putting up feeders or planting native vegetation will attract birds to your yard and provides you with an easy opportunity to hone your bird ID skills from the comfort of your home. Bird feeders and birdhouses are a great way to add character to your yard while providing additional foraging and nesting habitat for particular birds. You don't need much space to hang a feeder or house, and even small gardens can be tailored to provide habitat for birds year-round. There are many organizations that provide inspiration and guidance as you start to create a more bird-friendly landscape around your home. 

Check out these top 10 ways that you can help bird in your backyard or on your property.


Explore Your Neighborhood

Purple martin houses, nests and hatchlings in Forest Park St. Louis.

Purple martin houses, nests and hatchlings in Forest Park St. Louis.

While many experienced birders take field trips far from home, urban and suburban areas also offer great birding opportunities in their own right. Great birding can be had in your backyard or down the street at the city park. City parks are often rest stops for weary spring migrants who join resident birds in the trees, shrubs, ponds, and other landscaped features. Many unusual migrants appear in city parks in spring and fall, to eat the abundant insects and fruit available. Birding around your neighborhood is often a more accessible option, as paved pathways, public restrooms, drinking fountains, and other amenities are readily available. The Great Missouri Birding Trail includes a list of birding sites in the metro areas of St. Louis, Kansas City, and Springfield. These metro sites are a short walk or car ride away, and many are accessible by public transit. Some of the best urban birding options are at your local Missouri Department of Conservation Nature Center or Interpretive Center. These centers help you and your family connect with nature in a variety of ways.

Birding in your backyard and local park doesn't mean you'll miss out on seeing a variety of species. While exploring your neighborhood you can find dozens of species, especially in spring and summer. Bird feeders attract House Finches, American Goldfinches, White-breasted Nuthatches, Dark-eyed Juncos, Northern Cardinals, Blue Jays, White-throated Sparrows, and Carolina Chickadees. In shrubby areas you might find Brown Thrasher, Gray Catbird, Northern Mockingbird, and Northern Cardinal. At night, you might hear Great-horned Owls, which don't mind nesting in large trees in urban areas. Insects swarming around light posts are sure to bring Common Nighthawks and Chimney Swifts. Up in the trees, you'll see Scarlet Tanager, Baltimore Oriole, Carolina Wren, Yellow-throated Vireo, Red-eyed Vireo, Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, and many species of wood warblers during spring and summer migration.

In the winter months, a wide-variety of waterfowl and shorebirds will flock to your local city lake. You will find dabbling ducks, diving ducks, geese, swans, pelicans, cormorants, grebes, loons, gulls, and terns. Waterfowl are good species for practicing bird ID because they tend to stay relatively stationary compared to perching birds, and they are floating out in open water instead of hiding behind trees and shrubs. Osprey can sometimes be seen fishing city lakes, reservoirs, and ponds. These birds do well around human settlements, and their numbers have rebounded significantly following the ban of harmful pesticides. You might also head down to the shore of a major river or stream that runs through your city. You are sure to find some Bald Eagles along the Mississippi or Missouri Rivers.

Red-tailed Hawks are commonly seen perched on telephone poles along highways, in large city parks with sprawling fields, and soaring overhead. Cooper's Hawks and Sharp-shinned Hawks are sometimes seen at bird feeders (but they aren't going after seeds). Peregrine Falcons, famous for their astoundingly fast stoops, or dives, are well-suited to urban habitats. Reintroduction efforts have led to a population comeback of this amazing bird, which suffered from pesticide poisoning in the 20th century. Look for Peregrine Falcons perching or nesting on tall buildings, water towers, power pylons, and other tall structures around big cities.