Backyard Naturalist: Birds
Many PVAS members and friends just enjoy watching birds in their backyard and neighborhood. Our members are always eager to share some of their tips for birdwatching and we share them with you here.
If you are interested in hanging up a bird feeder to start watching birds in your backyard, but don't quite know where to begin, here's a great resource from National Audubon! Another great site for information on the birds that may be coming to your feeder this fall and winter is from Project Feederwatch. National Audubon also has some tips for winterizing your backyard to make it attractive to birds. And here are plans for making your own solar powered bird bath. If you'd like to make your own suet cakes, these recipes from Birds and Blooms magazine might help.
If you are having problems with "bully birds" (grackles, European starlings, cowbirds, etc) eating all the seed at your feeders, here are some tips from Birds and Blooms (Dec/Jan 2000 issue):
Choosing A Bird Guide
- Encircle your feeder with large mesh hardware cloth or chicken wire with openings large enough for small birds to get through, but not the larger ones. Or purchase a "caged-in" tube or tray feeder at a garden shop.
- Hang your suet feeder under a domed squirrel baffle. Starlings are reluctant to go "under cover" to gobble up suet.
- Since "bully birds" like to eat seeds that drop from feeders, place a deep container (like a garbage can) directly underneath your feeder. It will catch the seeds that drop, but pigeons and doves won't go into the can to eat. They'll find another, easier feeder to use.
- Offer food that bullies won't eat: niger seed in thistle socks or tubes or safflower seeds rather than sunflower.
There are many bird guides on the market and each has its own way of describing birds. The best way to choose the field guide that is right for you is to go to a bookstore and compare them. Some of our favorites are:
- Stokes Beginners Guide to Birds: Eastern Region Why we like it: it's small, inexpensive, and simple to use, with large pictures of the most common birds you may see in your backyard.
- Peterson Field Guide To Birds of Eastern and Central North America Why we like it: the drawings are clear and accurate and have small arrows to show you the key field marks on birds of similar color.
- National Geographic Field Guide to the Birds of North America Why we like it: this guide has great maps and covers birds all over the US, not just in our region, so if you are traveling, you need only take one bird field guide.
- The Sibley Field Guide to Birds of Eastern North America Why we like it: this guide has information on nesting, behavior, food and feeding, and a voice description of the birdsong as well as key identification features.
- Kaufman Field Guide to Birds of North America Why we like it: this guide has detailed information with computer-enhanced and edited photographs to show the bird's most common features.
Online Field Guides
Online field guides are very detailed and include bird sounds. Here are two excellent sites.
Audubon's Online Guide to North American Birds
Cornell Lab's All About Birds
Learn birdsongs with Bird Song Hero Tutorial from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology.
There's An App For That!
Birding apps for your phone are available, some free and some not. Check the App Marketplace on your phone for availability. The Cornell Lab of Ornithology has just posted their reviews of "best phone apps" for learning bird sounds, so check out what they think! Here are some smart phone apps to consider:
For iPhone, iPod, iPad
- iBird Explorer Pro
- Peterson's Birds of North America Birding App
- Sibley eGuide to the Birds of North America
- Audubon Birds App--A Field Guide to North American Birds
- National Geographic's Handheld Birds
- Merlin Bird App from Cornell Lab of Ornithology
- Bird Atlas Recording Software
- Bird Songs
- Audubon Birds--A Field Guide
- Bird Song Sound Droid
- Merlin Bird App from Cornell Lab of Ornithology (coming June 2014)
If you are thinking about getting a pair of binoculars this video helps explain what all the numbers mean and which pair might be best for you. This short video from Eagle Optics will help you adjust your binoculars for the best viewing.
National Audubon has the latest information in their 2014 Guide to Binoculars here. The Cornell Lab of Ornithology's 2014 Guide is here as well. The 2013 Optics Guide from Birdwatchers Digest also has great information! You can view it here online. Optics Planet has good information, too.
Birds and Cats
Did you know that cats are one of the biggest threats to birds? Here's information that might help you find ways to enjoy your cat (inside) and your birds (in the backyard.)
Online programs to help you learn to identify common Spring or Summer Birds!
- Every February, the Great Backyard Bird Count is a way folks all over the US record feeder birds during just one weekend in February. You can participate even if you are just beginning!