This month’s Backyard Biodiversity post will be about backyard birds you can identify. I have a lot of “birding” and ornithologist friends, so you might think I was an earlier adopter of birding, but it wasn’t really until I lived in Toledo, Ohio in 2012 that I understood birding. I went to the Biggest Week in American Birding Festival (www.biggestweekinamericanbirding.com/) that is held by the Black Swamp Bird observatory just 40 minutes outside of Toledo, Ohio and on the edge of Lake Erie. The Biggest Week generally occurs around the first weekend of May, this is when thousands of migratory birds make their way up to northwest Ohio. They take a rest before continuing their journey across the Great Lakes and further north to reach their breeding grounds. The stars of this show are the warblers. With over 118 species of New World warblers, 56 or so of these species can be found in North America; and you can see about 20 of these during the Biggest Week, along with a lot of other migratory and non-migratory birds. These small colorful birds would generally only be pursued by birders on a mission as warblers generally do not frequent backyard feeders, but what I like about this event is that it turns normal people into birders, and one reason for this is that the warblers are literally in your face. You walk through Magee Marsh that week and I guarantee you will see these tiny little birds only a few feet away, paying little attention to the paparazzi lining the board walks (you should also check out some of the cameras and gear the people have). Keep in mind that these birds have traveled thousands of miles from their winter grounds in South or Central America and many still have many more miles to go to reach their breeding grounds. Check out some of these articles on warbler migration:
The fact that these tiny, seemingly- fragile creatures can fly so far two times a year is mind blowing. Regardless of your birding experience I would highly recommend you make it up to this festival one of these days.
Now the rest of this post will not be about warblers, these little guys do not come to bird feeders – at least not mine, but as bird migration is going on I thought it would be a good time to get to look at migratory and non-migrant birds that I find in my backyard. Furthermore I have had more time to check out my feeders during this pandemic, and so I have been practicing my wildlife photography. Backyard birds are probably one of the best ways to get into wildlife photography, you can attract the birds to you, you can position yourself so that you can get good close-up shots, and you have plenty of opportunity to learn how to take better photos as the parade of birds is non-stop.
Here in the Midwest the Northern Cardinal is a reliable and easily distinguishable bird, also gorgeous. These are year-round residents, so you will see them in the winter.
I have several pairs of cardinals that hang out near my yard including one pair that is building a nest under the eaves of my house.
The American Goldfinch, also a year-round resident in Missouri, also gorgeous. The males are a glorious bright yellow with a black cap, but both of these traits fade when it is not breeding season, so you may not recognize them during the rest of the year. They will usually feed in small groups or flocks. They also like to make a lot of noise.
The White-Breasted Nuthatch is a fun one. I like how the hop around the tree trunks and branches. These guys will also store seeds for later in the winter, hiding the seeds in the bark of trees.
The Tufted Titmouse, also a resident, these guys are fun to watch, they are acrobatic and will hang from the end of branches and just act goofy.
The Black-Capped Chickadee, is a resident bird in Missouri and can often be seen in groups. Many other bird species will also hang out with a chickadee flock, using the chickadee alarm calls to help warn them of predators near-by. I like this pic, the bird just jumped down from the branch, the bird is out of focus, but the forefront twigs are nice and sharp!
The Eastern Bluebird is Missouri’s state bird. I use dried meal worms to attract these and have been lucky to have a family or two of bluebirds nearby, so I will see them come by every day, even during the winter.
The House Finch is also a resident bird in Missouri. Interestingly they are originally from the western part of the US, but were introduced into the east in the 1940’s.
Now onto some migratory birds that I can see this time of year.
It would not be a Missouri spring and summer without the Ruby-Throated Hummingbird. OK so not the best picture, I am working on getting one with better light to show off their magnificence. See, plenty of opportunity to improve your photography skills. These birds winter in parts of Mexico and Central American, but spend the summer up here and in Canada.
The Swainson’s Thrush is migratory, with Missouri being just a stop through on its way to its breeding grounds further north into Canada, in fact I saw one a year ago in Alaska. Thrushes have somewhat ethereal calls that trail off into flute like fairy tweets, like trickling water, its quite charming. I did not hear this one call, but I have, according to my ornithologist neighbor and friend a wood thrush in my backyard as well and he sings every evening.
The Chipping Sparrow is a summer resident of Missouri meaning it migrates up to Missouri for the summer breeding season, they winter in southern US and Mexico. We had a flock of these devour our bird seed during March and April, they are pretty cute with the reddish little caps and white eye streaks. I have not seen them since, so they may have moved further north.
Check out Cornell’s site https://www.allaboutbirds.org/news/ for more info and ID’ig help on all the cool birds.
Besides the Biggest Week in American Birding, each year around this time is the Global Big Day…this year its May 9....which is like tomorrow. A day to go out and count as many bird species as you can. So get out there, or at least set up some bird feeders and watch!