My favorite and most frequent location to bird has always been at my kitchen sink. All but one of my bird feeders hang from the roof of my back deck, which is what my kitchen window overlooks. My regulars include Carolina chickadee, tufted titmouse, house finch, Carolina wren, American goldfinch, mourning dove, and, of course, house sparrow, but sometimes downy or red-bellied woodpeckers give me a thrill, and once, a pileated woodpecker stopped by to enjoy my big ol’ suet feeder with a built-in tail prop! I love it when winter visitors such as pine siskins, dark-eyed juncos, and white-throated sparrows turn up.
My backyard, sadly, has not been a hummingbird haven, although I did have as many as three at a time at my nectar feeders. The nectar feeder on my front porch seemed to empty faster than the one I could watch more attentively (while cooking and doing dishes). Unfortunately, neither rose-breasted grosbeaks or indigo buntings found my feeders, as they did when I lived on the edge of town in Bloomington, Indiana.
But maybe now they will, because I moved! My “new” house (built in 1920) is just two blocks from my old house (built in the late 1800s, and with close neighbors on both sides), but this one is surrounded by woods on three sides. Not big woods—I’m actually closer to downtown Marietta, Ohio, in this house—but enough trees and dense understory to matter. And the front yard has no lawn—just scruffy flowers, including some native plants, and weeds that I’ll replace with more native plants soon. I haven’t lived in this house a month, but some of the first birds I spotted here were good ones, rare just two blocks from here: northern flicker, Baltimore oriole, eastern towhee, and white-eyed vireo.
I haven’t unpacked my bird feeders yet, and I’m not sure which of the many bins in my garage are the ones with the sunflower hearts, Nyjer, and peanuts in the shell, but I’ll be taping a blank yard list to my fridge ASAP. It’s exciting to be starting a new list. I spotted 45 species in or from my yard at my old house in the six and a half years I lived there. I think I’ll be able to exceed that in even less time, not only because I’m working from home now, but because I have way more windows that overlook birdy habitat. I’ll soon hang feeders near each one—especially the one next to my work office.
Just for kicks, and as a little experiment, I stood outside my office on the small landing that comes down from my deck. I tallied birds I saw and heard from 2:45 to 2:53 p.m.: common grackle, eastern towhee, mourning dove, Carolina chickadee, tufted titmouse, white-breasted nuthatch, house wren, Carolina wren, and the ubiquitous house sparrow. Not bad for eight minutes on a warm afternoon in mid-June. Most of those were regulars at my old house, but the towhee is a species that was not on my old yard list. And so many birds were vocalizing—from the trees!
During the years I lived two blocks northwest of here, I decreased the amount of lawn, planted a few native trees and lots of other native plants, and generally tried to make my lot more bird friendly. But I had no control over my neighbors’ preferences for lawns. The trees that surround my new house bode well for a lengthy yard list. It’s exciting! Of course, four hundred years ago, the area where I live was part of one big, unbroken forest that covered nearly all of what is now the eastern United States. That’s the natural landscape for this region, and that’s the landscape that is most desirable for wild birds. I am thrilled to live in a place nearly surrounded by good bird habitat!
Don’t be discouraged if you live in a prairie, desert, or other habitat that lacks trees. If possible, do your best to recreate the historic, native ecosystem of your area, and expect more birds.
About the Author
Dawn Hewitt is the editor for Bird Watcher's Digest and Watching Backyard Birds. She has been watching birds since 1979, and wrote a weekly birding column for The Herald Times newspaper in Bloomington, Indiana, for 11 years.