What is a garden without the song of the birds? I know I am not alone in selecting plants and landscaping practices that encourage the presence of wildlife, most especially a motley crew of feathered friends.
Not only are these animals a welcome auditory addition to my garden, they also bring unexpected spots and flutters of color that add real variety to flowers and grasses.
As Rocky Balboa puts it so succinctly, the birds look like “flying candy.” Well said, Rock. Well said. This is what is to come: Common types of wild birds and the ways attract them.
We’ll take a look at the species you’re likely to see visiting your garden year-round and briefly mention how to attract them to your garden. Let’s dive in and see more about backyard birds!
Before you start considering what backyard birds you’re likely to see, it’s a good idea to consider where you are geographically.
People from the Northeast will have a completely different set of visitors than those from the American Southwest, and once you start adding mountain ranges and bodies of water into the equation, you’ll have even more variety to consider.
A good resource to have on hand is an identification field guide. While much of that information may be available online, it’s much easier (and faster) to identify a bird by flipping through a few pages of a book rather than looking it up online.
Maybe I’m old fashioned about it, but I’m more comfortable with a book than a device. Having said that, it’s great to take your field notes with you at the end of the day, to find even more detailed information online, through a deeper resource.
A book that focuses on a huge area will provide only general information, while a book that laser-focuses on a narrower geographic region will provide much more specific information about the birds you’re looking to identify in your backyard.
Kaufman’s Field Guide to the Birds of North America is an excellent all-purpose identification guide and is vinyl-bound for durability. Written by Kenn Kaufman, this is a generalized book that covers all of North America, so it contains tons of information.
Kaufman Field Guide to Birds of North America
As for region-specific guides, my best suggestion is to find a locally written guide at a local bookstore. They are usually written by devoted birders who have first-hand experience with birds throughout their region.
National Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Birds: Eastern Region
Other than that though, I’ve had great luck with the National Audubon Society guides in every category.
National Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Birds, Western Region
This book is relatively compact, wear and tear resistant, and provides excellent information in an easy-to-search presentation. Don’t worry, I have both options available for you here, available through Amazon:
For something very specific, Peterson’s Field Guide to Foraging Birds of Eastern North America is just as good as identifying foraging birds from your kitchen window or a garden seat.
Peterson’s Field Guide to the Foraging Birds of Eastern North America. However, Roger Tory Peterson’s guide is less useful for species that are not particularly attracted to feeders, so you will miss out on some opportunities to identify some visitors.
You should expect to find a variety of seed mixes available. But they are not one size fits all.
When I first started feeding birds, I expected all species to eat anything they could stick their beaks into. It turns out that birds are as picky as a five-year-old in a nice restaurant.
Here’s a quick breakdown of the types of seeds you’ll find in a mix, and a few other options:
- Sunflower: You will find three varieties of sunflower seeds. Black oilseeds have a thin shell and can be chewed by almost anything, while striped sunflower seeds have a much harder shell and have a more limited list of species that will eat them. Peeled sunflower seeds are pre-peeled. This means much less clutter, but they are also much more expensive.
- Thistle/Nyjer: Tiny seeds preferred by goldfinches, thistle seeds can be very invasive. The solution is to heat the seeds before distributing them to limit their chances of taking root. Nyjer seeds are produced from a different plant (Guizotia abyssinica) that is less invasive than thistle, but these two can be used interchangeably.
- Millet: While birds love white millet, they tend to ignore other varieties like red and gold. The latter is often used as a filler in seed mixes, so always go for white millet when choosing what works for you.
- Safflower: Similar to the striped sunflower seed, the safflower has an outer shell that is difficult to break. It is primarily used to attract cardinals, but a handful of other species will also eat it.
- Milo: A seed favored by ground feeders, milo can also attract undesirables like thrushes. Avoid using it when you can!
- Corn and Peanuts: These are included in the same bullet because they have identical concerns and uses. Only use peanuts and corn that have been specifically sold as bird feed, and use them sparingly. Both of these options can quickly rot and contaminate surrounding seeds and feeders, and worse, attract wildlife like deer, raccoons, bears, and others. Use it, but in moderation!
- Suet: Disgusting to the touch, tallow is frozen animal fat. It is often mixed with seeds, fruit, and other additives to make a high-energy food source for a variety of species.
- Nectar: Mostly reserved for hummingbirds, nectar is essentially sugar water. Buy it at the store or make it yourself by boiling 1/4 cup of white refined sugar with 1 cup of water until dissolved; let cool and then add to the feeder.
A water fountain is also appreciated. A full stomach is useless without a drop to drink! A heated birdbath is a blessing for winter birds!
Stages Of Growth Of Perennial Migratory Birds
Many backyard birds are short-term visitors to your area based on their migratory route, while others stay year-round. Others will simply follow the food sources available to them, regardless of temperature.
A perfect example is the Canadian goose. These birds will travel in their iconic V-shaped flocks to find warmer spots during the winter months before turning around and heading home the following spring.
Besides, I have a soft spot for these geese. In fact, I’ve been known to pull over to the side of the road, stand on the hood of my car, and watch a flock of geese through a pair of binoculars until they’re beyond the horizon.
People probably think I’m crazy, and let’s be honest, they’re probably right…
Backyard birds may look different depending on their current stage of development and whether they have recently shed.
For example, the red-tailed hawk will have a white underbelly that darkens as it matures, and European starlings change their appearance seasonally.
This can add some variety to the identification of familiar species, depending on when you are spotting them.
Familiar Feathers To Look For
Purple Martins and several species of swallows that make a living by consuming and controlling our insect population are among the first to go. They also have the longest journey to their ancestral homes in the tropics. This is where insects and plants abound.
So, before the danger of frost and snow that can destroy their northern food sources occurs, they are on their way to Central and South America without even a single “goodbye.”
Hummingbirds, who have earned a special place in the hearts of backyard birders, will often remain at our feeders until late September and even well into October. Some of the hummingbirds we see at the end of the season are transients that have started their journey south from Canada.
On their way south, they make R&R stops along the way to refuel. It is important that the hummingbird feeders are maintained and maintained even until November, to help the stragglers.
Orioles often precede hummingbirds, so keep pulling oranges and nectar for them, too.
You may notice that in early fall, large flocks of starlings, blackbirds, and grackles begin to swarm the sky, like large schools of billowing fish in exotic, swooping flight patterns.
This is the time of the final assembly of those species, on their way back to warmer climates. One day you will look up and notice that everyone is gone.
Weather patterns have brought some changes, with the movement of species during seasonal transitions. If you’re lucky enough to have attracted eastern bluebirds to your backyard nesting boxes, you may have noticed that many stay year-round.
They use nesting boxes or tree cavities as winter shelter, and you may find an entire family of bluebirds with you all winter long. They will survive if there are wild berries nearby.
You can help them with suet ball rations made especially for bluebirds, and sunflower seed meat (hearts). They cannot eat whole sunflower seeds because it is difficult for them to break the shells with their special type of beak.
Those that remain will be the first to begin nesting come spring. With such an early start, they can nest up to three times during the season.
Other pleasant summer visitors, such as woodpeckers, tend to migrate, as do red-headed woodpeckers. The fluffy and shaggy woodpeckers stay with us.
On the plus side, northern birders can expect some new winter arrivals when the juncoes, the birds we affectionately call “snowbirds,” begin to appear.
They are larger than chickadees and are usually dark gray in color. Its lower halves appear to have been dipped in buckets of white paint.
Rushes appear suddenly, often just before the first snowfall, after spending the summer in arctic regions. And they visit our northern tier of states in the winter to enjoy the relative warmth and get through the season.
It’s all relative, and in the end, when you most need a hobby or distraction to get you through the long, gray days of winter, you’ll have plenty of visitors to your backyard feeders.
Who can you expect to see at your winter feeder and in your backyard? The following are the most common feeding species, but you can always expect some unusual visitors along the way.
>>> See more: how to attract bats
Common Types Of Wild Birds in North American Backyard
Blue Jays are the beautiful backyard bullies, noisy and obnoxious mimics that will mimic the call of a predatory species to scare off feeder competitors. They are also capable of being quiet and singing soft, lovely songs when nesting, so it’s hard to get too frustrated with blue jays.
They’ll eat anything you give them, so there’s no need to be careful about what you’re wearing to attract blue jays!
Cardinals are, perhaps surprisingly, the jerks of the feeder and aren’t afraid to fight for more than their fair share. Males wear an iconic red coat that’s impossible to miss and have a call that sounds more like a laser beam than a squeak. Females are lighter in color and can be very territorial; I’ve seen them fight their reflections in the rear view mirrors!
To see more of these in your backyard, entice them with safflower seeds, black oil sunflower seeds, and white milo.
Chickadees (Black-headed and Carolina varieties) are small, adorable, and among the friendliest birds you’ll see. With patience and the right food, they can even eat out of your hand.
Listen for that telltale “chicka-dee-dee-dee” call, or its beautiful up-and-down whistle. Lure them in with sunflower seeds (whole or shelled), shelled peanuts, and suet.
Goldfinches are as showy as birds and often fly in large flocks. They are also easily startled and difficult to approach.
While goldfinches eat thistle seeds from a feeder, they are at their best and happiest when they can eat the seeds of live plants in your garden. Plant echinacea, sunflowers, rudbeckia, and other wildflowers to attract goldfinches in swarms, or rather, in “charms,” ”rushes,” “treasures,” “veins,” or even “007,” as they are sometimes called. the flocks of goldfinches. (Don’t you love it?!).
The house finch can be a noisy and annoying little bird, but it’s fine with me. They will eat just about anything in your garden, including desirable fruits and vegetables, as well as unsavory invasive plants like knotweed, thistle, and mustard.
If you want to minimize the damage they can cause, offer house finch seeds such as nyjer seeds, black oil sunflower seeds, and shelled sunflower seeds.
Purple finches are subtly conspicuous. This is the type of bird that appears to have been dipped in grape juice and is partially stained as a result of that immersion.
They are looking to gobble up sunflower, thistle and millet seeds from the feeder, but are also happy to eat the seeds of large trees in your garden.
The rose-breasted grosbeak looks like it could be Yemen’s national bird with its black, white, and red coloration. They have an attractive singing voice, among my favorites, but they tend to live near woods and forest rows.
Rose-breasted Grosbeaks build a notoriously flimsy nest, so if you see them nesting, give them plenty of room so they don’t break it! They are attracted to sunflower seeds, safflower seeds, and peanuts.
Nightingales are spectacular vocalists and are almost always a joy to listen to; the only exception is when you have a headache! I’ve had minimal luck luring them to a feeder, and found that they prefer to be left alone.
However, supplies of suet, fruit, and hulled sunflowers can help you attract this accomplished vocalist to your feeder.
Pigeons are adorable little bits of living marble with a low, sad song… they’re also bottomless feeders and will chew up anything that falls to the ground from your feeders.
Found a couple of mourning doves trapped inside a chicken coop. They repeatedly flew into the net and were likely to be stuck forever if I didn’t catch them, so after a few tries they were finally exhausted enough for me to pick them up and release them!
It’s hard to find something pigeons won’t eat, but at least they make better garden companions than squirrels!
The Nuthatch is, in a word, fun to watch. It grabs onto the bark of trees and jumps up and down as if on flat ground, seemingly immune to gravity.
These little ones prefer wooded areas. They like to eat nuts, sunflower seeds, mealworms, and suet, but have been known to expand their diet beyond these foods.
Don’t forget about the popular and iconic American robin. These heralds of spring have a very different palette than other foraging birds and require a different approach.
Offer them cut apples, mealworms, and berries. Since robins prefer to find their own food, you’ll have better luck throwing these things on your lawn than in a feeder if you want to attract them.
The chickadee is a funky little bird, an adorable fellow with a funny-looking mohawk on his head.
I’ve seen more of these in wooded areas than suburbs, but with the right food nearby, it’s likely to encourage some to visit your backyard.
Lure these lonely birds with sunflower seeds, tallow and peanuts. And keep in mind that they are not afraid to open up their diet to other seeds as well.
Waxwings are true beauties, but they’re also prone to flying into windows and dying on impact. For that alone, I’d rather not try to lure them into my house. They are also difficult to attract in the first place and can have an insatiable appetite!
If you have a feeder near a line of wood and away from the danger of fatal impact, you can encourage them to visit you with chopped fruit and raisins.
Woodpeckers (downy, ginger, red-breasted, pileated, and northern flicker) are perennial feeder favorites, as long as you live in a wooded area. They have a closer call to manic chatter than charming singing, but they are as handsome as they can be.
Types Of Prey Wild Birds in Backyard
Many people are immediately up in arms when they see a bird of prey in their backyard, feasting on songbirds and other feeding friends. You’ve worked hard to attract those finches, and now a hawk is eating them!
I’m definitely in the minority here, but I love watching birds of prey in the backyard.
Watching a falcon dive-bomb an unsuspecting bird is a real sight to behold, and it’s all part of the outdoor experience. I’m not happy to see my favorite birds gobbled up by a bird of prey, but it’s undeniably impressive and a great indicator of the health of your miniature ecosystem.
Many people want to scare birds, but consider allowing them to feed from your feeders.
You will be on the lookout for Cooper’s Falcon, Sharp-shinned Falcon, American Kestrel and Red-tailed Hawk mainly. They are large and powerful birds capable of incredible feats of power and grace. Just remember, they need to feed too!
Keep an Eye Out!
One of the most enjoyable aspects of backyard bird watching is that you will be able to see them year-round.
In the winter, I keep my feeders filled to the brim for sparrows and other birds. My cat loves to sit in the window to watch them feast, and it makes good bird watching company.
Providing the birds in your garden with a food source is beneficial to them and their environment, but always consider establishing a natural food source by planting some of the flowers mentioned above in your garden.
Keep an eye out for your feeder visitors and check back soon for more Answer The Question.