If you're at all interested in bird watching, you'll know it's not hard to see common birds in parks, along roadways, and in your own backyard.
But if you want to see more unusual wild birds, you may have to make a special effort to do so. If you're a real bird watching enthusiast, you may want to find a local birding club to join, so you can go on jaunts with others to find specific species.
Don't forget to bring binoculars, and maybe a camera. You never know what kinds of bird pictures you might have a chance to take.
Most everyone has seen American Robins in their yards. You don't need to do anything to attract these birds. They'll come looking for worms anywhere worms live.
But how about something a little more unusual?
Bird feeders are a great way to attract a larger variety of birds. When we lived in Minnesota, we got a constant flow of House Finches, Goldfinches, Cardinals, Blue Jays, Mourning Doves and... Common Grackles.
Not to mention the occasional Eastern Bluebird, Baltimore Oriole and Yellow-Headed Blackbird.
We also enjoyed bird watching at the pond behind us, which brought us a huge array of waterfowl, from Mallards to Common Mergansers, Hooded Mergansers, Great Egrets, Snowy Egrets, Great Blue Herons and even a rare visit (on such a small pond) from a Common Loon.
Now we're in Colorado, and we get different birds to our feeders, though we still feed similar foods - mostly seed. We use a mix, though by far the most popular seed is the black sunflower seeds.
If you're in the right kind of area, with open yards or grassy fields nearby, you can try putting up a mealworm feeder for bluebirds. We don't have Eastern Bluebirds out here, but we do have Western Bluebirds and Mountain Bluebirds, both of which we see often in the meadow across from our property. Even without putting food out for them.
Hummingbird feeders are even more fun out here than in Minnesota. Minnesota really only has one species of hummingbird, the Ruby-Throated, that visits in the summer (though you can't
discount the strays that wander that
far north sometimes).
In our corner of Colorado, we have nine species of hummingbirds we might see! And they all enjoy the nectar in our two hummingbird feeders. We haven't seen all nine species, yet, but we have seen four, plus, of course, the Ruby-Throated from Minnesota.
While bird feeders will help your bird watching, bird houses and nesting materials will also aid it. You can get ready-to-hang birdhouses for a variety of wild birds, or purchase kits or patterns and make your own.
I recommend, if you want to hang bird houses, that you do so responsibly. Don't just hang them and ignore them. Keep an eye on them, keep pest species out of them, and clean them out at the end of the nesting season.
If you want to get serious, you can purchase a copy of The Backyard Birdhouse Book, by Rene Laubach and Christyna M. Laubach (Amazon carries it). We enjoyed building a couple of appropriate birdhouses for our Minnesota yard with the book's instructions, and knowing how to monitor them properly. Two of the houses are great for our new home and the other we can convert from a waterbird house to a small raptor house for kestrels or small owls out here in Colorado.
Water also creates entertaining bird watching. It can make the most dignified looking bird look silly.
We have a small fountain that sits on our deck and runs all day. The birds delight in drinking and bathing using this fountain. You can put out a simple bird bath, too. The plastic trays that go beneath flower pots are an excellent, inexpensive option. Just be sure to wash them out once in awhile, and keep them filled especially when it's hot out.
Undoubtedly, along with the fun it is to enjoy bird watching at home, the frustration can drive you crazy. You're sitting on your deck with your coffee, enjoying the morning food rush at the freshly filled feeders when - wow - what was that one?
Yes, the unusual species tend to flit in and out fast, especially (it seems) when you're trying to get a close enough look to see what they are.
To me, even more aggravating are the ones that flash past as you're driving somewhere (and can't stop), or when you're out walking the dogs and they zip out of view before you get close enough to really see them (probably because the dogs were being boisterous).
There are many ways to go about bird identification, but getting a decent look goes a long way toward helping you figure out those mystery birds. A picture, if you have a camera in hand and time to shoot one, can help even more, since you can look at it as long as you want, scale it up (if it's digital) and try to see enough markings to make an accurate guess.
Yes, often it's a guess. If you have a good bird guide, you can page through it and (hopefully) find a match. First, though, you have to have a long enough look to see a few identifying traits: beak size and shape, markings on head and around eyes, overall shape, markings on wings and tail, and how moves when eating, how it looks when it flies. All of these help identify the bird you've glimpsed.
Bird calls can sometimes make or break an identification, too, since some similar looking species are only easily distinguished by their different calls. I, unfortunately, being more of a visual learner, tend not to remember bird calls very well. Yes, I know a dozen or so that I've heard repeatedly, but the rest elude me without the help of bird call CDs or books.
Until 2003, I enjoyed bird watching of songbirds, birds of prey and waterfowl around me with interest, but not necessarily excitement. Something happened in 2003, though, that changed how I looked at birds and how crazy I got trying to identify some I'd only caught a flash of.
The summer of 2003, my daughter and I were volunteering to help monitor bluebird boxes in Minnesota, a project taken on years ago to help monitor and turn the drop in population of Eastern Bluebirds in many areas. We also had a chance to watch, then begin helping, the local bird banders: people who gently trap or net songbirds, apply a tiny aluminum, numbered band on one leg, do a few measurements and observations, then release the birds back into the wild.
Why do they do this? To help us understand birds better, their life expectancies, their migration patterns, eating habits, living habits. This, in turn, helps us understand the impact our actions on the environment can have on these delightful creatures - and ultimately ourselves.
Soon, my daughter and I were hooked on birds. We graduated from beginner guides and bought one of the more highly recommended bird guides (The Sibley Guide to Birds). We started taking lots of bird pictures (which is great fun when a bird is being held in a bander's hand, so you have plenty of time).
We also developed a habit I call "birder-driving". That's where you're driving along, you see a cool bird and you slow down and meander back and forth across both lanes (and sometimes into the shoulder), trying to see what it is.
Yup, we were hooked on bird watching. No, we're not experts, by any means, but we know a heckava lot more than we used to. And we still love looking for new species and old, just to watch.
I hope this website encourages your bird watching obsession!