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Which Birds Live
In Your Backyard?

Ruby-throated Hummingbird, photo by CHARLIE ZAPOLSKI of SAUGUS MA

The above fine picture of a Ruby-throated Hummingbird sipping sugar-water at a hummingbird feeder in Saugus, Massachusettes was made by Charlie Zapolski in his own backyard. So, this is one bird species you might have in your own backyard if you happen to be in eastern North America where Ruby-throats spend their summers, and their ecological needs are satisified.

If right now you should go outside and look around your own backyard for wild birds, what you'd see - - or didn't see -- would depend very much on the following:

The kind of neighborhood
in which you live

BIRD FLASHCARDS courtesy of the
NATIONAL WILDLIFE FEDERATION'S
eNature website

To see an image and read about these common North American backyard birds, click on the name below. Then on the flashcard click on the picture for more information. On the next page, click on the picture again for a much larger image.

If you live in a city or town with trees along streets, houses with lawns, a park not too far away, maybe a nearby golf course or abandoned lot, and possibly some bushy hedges or lines of trees separating homes, that can actually be pretty good for finding birds. It's entirely possible that you'll be able to see a greater variety of bird species than someone else who only looks for birds deep inside forests.

That's because deep inside forests there are only birds adapted for living deep inside forests. However, in cities and towns there are patches of distinct habitats, and each habitat has it own characteristic assemblage of bird species. For example, in towns we can find various seed-eating birds such as sparrows and finches in weedy or grassy areas. Around warehouses there might be nighthawks nesting on flat roofs. Pigeons may make themselves at home in various nooks and crannies of the downtown area. In wetlands along the river there may be marsh birds, and in the park there may be forest birds among the trees, and an occasional wild duck or goose in the lake. As a general rule, the more diverse our surroundings, the more species of almost any kind of animal we're likely to spot.

Time of Day

Most birds are much more active during the first two or three hours of the morning, and then again an hour or two before dusk, than during the long middle of the day.

There are some exceptions to this rule. At the beach, sea gulls and shorebirds may stay active the whole day. Hummingbirds often return to feeders throughout the day. During nesting season, birds with young to feed can be seen flying back and forth to their nests all day long.

Time of Year

In the nesting season, many adult songbirds sing from conspicuous perches. Early in the season, males sing advertisements for females, and later they "defend" their territories with song. Spring is usually the best season for locating many different bird species by tracking down their songs. In late summer and in the fall, some birds join into large, conspicuous flocks with others of their species.

During late fall and again in early spring, a large number of bird species migrate. Some of the greatest fun in birding is seeing birds pass through our neighborhoods during migration. Many species appear in our neighborhoods only at this time.

Your Own Bird-Seeing Talent

As you gain more experience in looking for and seeing birds, your powers of observation will improve profoundly! Spotting birds involves much more than just learning tricks, such as looking into bushes instead of at bush surfaces. It's as if the part of the brain responsible for bird-finding were a muscle -- a muscle that grows larger and stronger the more it's used.

After a few months of practice you'll find yourself catching glimpses of elusive birds where others see nothing. Moreover, when you spot a bird, your brain will automatically soak up an incredible array of details, such as the presence or absence on the bird of eye strips or rings, wingbars, spots beneath the tail, stripes on the chest, etc. This is true, even if right now when you study a bird for a while and then ten seconds after it's flown all you can say is, "It was kind of small, and maybe brownish... "

Your Ideas about Birds

It may seem funny that your ideas about birds can determine what you see, but it's true. Wrong ideas can actually inflict you with a kind of bird-seeing blindness.

For instance, right now you may know that a rooster looks different from a hen, and that baby birds look different from adult birds. Probably you've also noticed that a Saint Bernard and, say, a poodle are very unlike one another, yet they can breed with one another and produce mixed-blood offspring. All these thoughts may be mingling in your mind, creating the general impression that groups of animals such as birds are more or less just one thing, the appearance of each individual depending on what its parents looked like, or some other unknown cause.

Therefore, if you see two birds together that are plainly very unlike, you may consciously or unconsciously think something like, "Well, bird appearances are so unpredictable and confusing that there's no reason to pay attention to every little detail."

The result will be that you ignore features such as wing bars, eye stripes, and the rest. You look at the bird, but do not really see it.

But, we're going to fix that...

Your Expertise with Your "Tools"

The birder's three main tools are field guides, binoculars, and notes. You can enjoy birds flitting around the feeder without these but, if you want to become even halfway serious about the matter, you must have these things. These tools are fully covered at our "Nature Study Tools" link.