You don’t have to go far from home to enjoy some great birdwatching. Backyard birding is the perfect way to get into birding and practice your skills, whether it be counting birds, photographing birds, or just simply observing them as they go about their business.
Backyard birding doesn’t have to just be in a backyard, as not everyone has access to one. You’ll soon discover that birds aren’t just in “wild” nature areas, they are everywhere! Just outside your door, even in the city, there will be birds chirping and singing.
For those that have a backyard or a private outdoor space like a patio or balcony, we have some tips on how to attract your local birds, how to best observe them, and a list of some common backyard birds to watch out for.
Get Your Outdoor Space Bird-Ready
If you have a backyard, having trees and a focus on local, native plants and flowers can help create an oasis for birds (and all the things they like to eat!). Other additions, such as bird feeders, houses, and water sources like ponds or birdbaths will increase the bird-friendliness of your yard. For feeders and houses, try putting them near trees, shrubs, or somewhere a bird can get some shelter and be safer if they feel threatened.
A balcony can offer a great vantage point to see your local birds as they fly by, and, if permitted by your apartment or strata, you can put up bird seed feeders, suet cakes, and hummingbird feeders to get the attention of your bird neighbours.
Bird feeders, houses, and baths require a bit of extra care outside of refilling to discourage disease, illness, or parasites. Remember that if you are planning to put up anything to attract birds, you’ll have to make sure you empty and clean them regularly.
A hummingbird feeder is an affordable entry into the world of bird feeders. They are relatively cheap, easy to clean, and you can fill them up with just a simple sugar water. These feeders will also fit on even a small balcony.
Different birds eat different kinds of food, so when you’re looking into what sorts of seeds to get, ask at your local bird or outdoors shop. You can also find helpful tips online for backyard feeders and what kinds of birds you can expect with certain types of seeds. This is especially helpful if you have a specific bird you’d like to entice.
Sometimes going out into the yard to get a closer look at birds at your feeder can scare them away, so watching from a window can allow for some uninterrupted viewing. To make viewing from inside a little easier, keep a pair of binoculars close by, as well as your camera if you’re photographing your backyard birds. Get better photos from inside through your window by getting close to the window with your camera and shooting as straight through the window as possible. Shooting at an angle is more likely to give you unwanted reflections and make it more difficult to see the birds in your photo.
If you want to see more birds in your backyard, it may be best to keep your cat indoors as having a predator roaming your yard won’t exactly make birds want to come hang out. On the flip side, some people have noticed that making their outdoor space bird-friendly also made it friendly to predator birds like owls, hawks, and even eagles.
Keep track of the birds you see! Try keeping a list near your usual birding windows. It’s always exciting to see new birds and be able to add them. If you’re extra keen, you can also submit your backyard birding lists to eBird.
And speaking of backyard bird counting, the Great Backyard Bird Count, a worldwide citizen science project, is happening this February 12-15. It’s a great way to take a snapshot of the bird population around the world and as simple as stepping outside and counting all the birds you see within 15 minutes.
Birds You Might See
In British Columbia, we’re lucky to have a variety of birds that like to frequent our backyards and outdoor spaces. Keep your eyes peeled and you may see:
Dark-eyed Juncos – a year round bird that is more common during the winter months. They happily eat seeds from feeders.
House Sparrows – probably the most common bird you’ll see year-round in urban areas, gardens, and city streets.
Black-capped Chickadees – small birds that are common at bird feeders and also enjoy making use of nest boxes or houses.
American Robin – most common during the Spring when they take over gardens and backyards searching for food. Watch for their bright red chest feathers among the trees.
Barred Owls – on rare occasions in the evening you may catch Barred Owls hunting, or if you have large cozy trees nearby, you may even catch them roosting up above during the day.
Anna’s Hummingbirds – growing in population in BC, these hummingbirds rely on feeders during the winter months to sustain them. Listen for their scratchy songs and loud screeching sounds that come from the male’s courtship swoops.
House Finches – a year-round visitor of backyards and lover of birdseed feeders. Males have orangey-pink-red coloured feathers on their head.
Northern Flickers – a variety of woodpecker that enjoys eating insects, but have been known to feast on feeders in urban backyard gardens. Look for their fun polka-dotted breasts.
Spotted Towhees – a year-round backyard visitor that likes to forage on the ground for insects and seeds.