There may be nearly 10,000 bird species in the world, but you don't have to travel the world to enjoy birding. Backyard birding is a great hobby for all ages, whether you've been enjoying birds for years or are just getting started.
Defining Backyard Birding
Simply put, backyard birding is enjoying the wild birds that regularly visit your backyard. Most backyard birders do this easily by adding a few birdfeeders, a birdhouse or a bird bath to their yard. For more intense backyard birding, designing bird-friendly landscaping can be both effective and rewarding, and devoted backyard birders will plan themed gardens, water features and other projects for their yards specifically with birds in mind.
Meeting Birds' Basic Needs
If you're just getting started as a backyard birder, the first things to work on are meeting birds' basic needs. No matter where your yard is or what birds you can attract, you will need to ensure the birds have…
- Food: Black oil sunflower seed will attract a wide variety of birds, and other seeds such as millet and Nyjer are also preferred by many species. Other foods include nectar, fruit, cracked corn and suet. Great natural food sources for birds include insects and wild seeds, berries and fruit from landscaping plants.
- Water: A simple clean dish of fresh water will attract birds, but more elaborate bird baths, fountains, bubblers, misters and drippers are even more effective. The most dedicated birders may plan a waterfall or pond for their backyard birds.
- Shelter: Trees, shrubs, vines, bushes and other plants will provide natural shelter for birds, but adding a brush pile is another way to enhance your backyard birding. Bird roost boxes provide shelter as well, and many birds will use empty birdhouses as shelter.
- Nesting Sites: Watching nesting birds in your backyard can be a real treat, and providing suitable trees and bushes can attract birds ready to raise families. Add safe birdhouses to your yard and use nesting material to attract birds and encourage them to nest.
- Safety: Even the best backyard won't attract birds if they don't feel safe. Keep cats indoors, use different techniques to prevent window collisions and offer ways to protect your backyard birds from hawks to ensure they have a safe sanctuary to enjoy.
Observing Your Backyard Birds
Once you've taken steps to attract backyard birds, it is natural to want to watch their antics. Birds are most active in the morning and early evening, and you'll soon discover that your birds have regular "mealtimes" when they visit your feeders most often. Over time, you'll learn how your bird species vary seasonally. You can observe the birds closely by positioning feeders just a foot or two away from windows (or opt for feeders that attach to windows) and sitting or standing nearby. Eventually, your regular backyard guests will be accustomed to you and will let you watch them from very near.
As you learn more about your backyard birds, you may want to pick up a field guide so you can begin to identify the different species. Check local bookstores under the "Nature" or "Local" sections for specialized guides, or opt for a field guide that covers a larger region in case you want to begin seeing birds outside your backyard. Keeping a birding journal is another great way to sharpen your backyard observations so you can identify the birds that visit.
Making Your Backyard Better
Once you've begun attracting birds to your backyard and enjoying their visits, you'll want to lure an even more diverse flock to your yard. Certain birds, such as bluebirds, orioles and hummingbirds, are very desirable backyard birds but require specialized feeders and other considerations or they won't visit frequently. Browse through your field guide to see which birds you're likely to attract to your backyard, and make adjustments with the foods you offer, vegetation you plant and other techniques to attract just the birds you want. For many birders, this may also include taking steps to exclude the most common backyard birds such as European starlings, house sparrows or rock pigeons – species that will easily come to a backyard but that can also be bullies and will keep other species away.
Getting a Bigger Backyard
Birding can be addictive and many backyard birders soon realize their backyard isn't large enough for all their birding enjoyment. Expand your backyard and build your life list by watching birds at local parks, finding nearby hiking trails or visiting regional refuges where you can see a wider variety of bird species. Just as birds will wander, roam and migrate to wherever the habitat is best, even backyard birders begin to roam and enjoy all the birds in their area – even if they're not directly in their backyard.
Photo – House Finch Feeding © Don DeBold