One of the first purchases I made after we moved into our new house was two bird feeders. One is a white, lantern-looking hopper feeder and the other is a plain wood and wire covered suet feeder. Poles were already in place in the yard so I loaded up both feeders with food and hung them immediately. It was late fall and most had already flown south, but there were still some hungry birds to appreciate my efforts.
Through the winter, I would focus my pair of binoculars on the feeders and the various birds that frequented them. It was hard to miss the big birds. I had no problem identifying the inky black feathers and intelligent stares of the American Crows or the bright blue bodies with dark mohawk heads of the Steller’s Jays. I could easily pick out the red breasted American Robin and the dotted Northern Flicker with the orangish underwing. The other little birds required some homework though.
At first, the little birds all looked alike. Brownish, grayish little things that would swoop in fast, peck away at the feeders, and then swoop out again. They were fast little buggers and I had to have the binoculars and my patience ready. Only weekends seemed to afford me the time of sipping coffee in the morning or wine in the evening while gazing out the window. While most the little birds were around the same size, I did start to notice some differences and began consulting Google.
My first discovery was the Dark-eyed Junco with its grayish brown body feathers and solid black head. Then I began noticing other birds with mostly the same body coloration, but different markings on the head or wings. I also became curious about their behaviors. They seemed to queue up on nearby branches awaiting their turn at the feeders. Most would also hop along the ground collecting any dropped seeds. With the arrival of spring and thus more birds, I needed a book.
I came across a simplistic starter book entitled Beginner’s Guide to Birds by Donald & Lillian Stokes. Containing lots of pictures with facts about identification, song, habitat, and nesting habits, it has helped me determine the species of several other birds that visit my yard and possibly call it home.
The book is divided into colored sections so I’ve been able to note a feather feature’s color and then narrow it down by characteristics within that color. Since it is the Western Region edition (I assume there are more, but I have yet to look on Amazon), it only has birds that would naturally migrate or live year round in my area. So I kept filling the feeders and added a special hummingbird feeder as well.
I’ve spied the Spotted Towhee with its slightly robin appearance and its eerie, beady red eyes you can’t miss. A Golden-crowned Sparrow has showed off its yellow racing striped head. The head of a White-crowned Sparrow’s makes me think of skunk stripes. The Red-winged Blackbird is exactly that with it’s inky feathers and starkly contracting splash of red on the wings. I can’t decide if I have Chestnut-backed Chickadees or Bewick’s Wrens or both with their white striped faces. Wide stripe or eyeliner? I think I’ve seen both. I’ve even seen a hummingbird, but they are wicked fast and I can only guess they’ve been Roufus Hummingbirds. I hope I see more of them as the weather warms and the plants bloom.
As for the females, I’ve determined that they are the secret agents of the bird world. I’m too much of an amateur to tell them apart, but I did see one poking its head out of one of my many bird houses. I hope it’s building a nest, but time will tell.
Maybe it’s just that it’s spring or maybe the chirp has gotten out about the food, but my backyard is now a hot spot. I keep planting more shrubs for the birds to perch on and hide in. Hopefully the flowers from some will attract more hummingbirds. But for now…
My birdseed brings all the birds to the yard!