Focus on Home Birds

Since I moved to this house three years ago, I haven’t spent much time watching birds in my backyard. There’s a large noisy flock of non-native House Sparrows (Passer domesticus) that dominate the neighborhood, and those aggressive bullies have discouraged me from keeping my feeders filled most of the time, and they dissuade many other birds from staying too long as well.

So instead of birding the yard, I’ve focused more on trying to establish my garden, and on documenting the insects that come to my native plants. Here’s my main native bed, just cleaned up and showing early signs of the explosive growth to come — it contains monarda, asters, goldenrods, various milkweeds, boneset, blue lobelia, and many more native lovelies.

Native bed early in season 2020

But on this beautiful afternoon, knowing that my favorite walking trails would be too crowded for safety, I sat at my patio table (in the shade of my new umbrella!) and renewed my acquaintance with some fine feathered friends.

Patio umbrella 4-28-20
Those gallon jugs are mini greenhouses growing native seedlings for my garden.

This Chipping Sparrow (Spizella passerina) has been in the yard for a few days now, and I hear his familiar trilling song often. Even when he’s not singing, his diminutive size compared to other sparrows allows me to identify him from inside the house without binoculars. Beginning birders often struggle with identifying the various sparrows, calling them LBJs — little brown jobs. I spent much more time learning the colorful “easy” warblers than the sparrows, but now I’ve got a good handle on most sparrows.

Chipping sparrow - my yard - blog
Chipping Sparrow on empty cylinder feeder — oops!
Chipping sparrow on rock - blog
Chipping Sparrow giving me the evil eye because the feeders are empty

This morning I was thrilled to see a White-throated Sparrow (Zonotrichia albicollis) inspecting my empty feeders for a few moments. I quickly filled them and left for a walk in the park. When I came back home, I could hear his beautiful soft song from the redbud trees, and sure enough, there he was.

White-throated sparrow in redbud tree
White-throated Sparow in Eastern Redbud (Cercis canadensis)

As I’m writing this, a Northern Flicker (Colaptes auratus) has just flown over my head, calling out his squeaky “wicka-wicka-wicka” before landing in the big cedar tree in the front yard. I tried for a photo but missed. The flicker is a beautiful woodpecker that often forages for ants on the ground — here’s a pic I took on another day.

Northern Flicker on grass - blog
Northern Flicker

American Robins (Turdus migratorius) are prowling the lawn areas, snatching insects and listening for the sounds of worms underground. They’re so much fun to watch as they cock their heads and listen. The one I’m watching now is having great success, hopping around and plucking one insect (or maybe spider) after another from the grass.

Robin with head cocked listening - blog 2Robin with head cocked listening - blog

I was pleased to get a visit from this Common Grackle (Quiscalus quiscula), a blackbird that often gets overlooked by birders in search of “prettier” birds. But I challenge you to convince me that this bird isn’t gorgeous with his sleek black and iridescent blue feathers, and those yellow eyes!

Common grackle with dandelions in my yard - blog

Notice how nice he looks among the dandelions too. Those dandelions are symbolic of my yard’s chemical-free status. As I look down my street, I see mostly manicured lawns with very few dandelions. My neighbors probably think I’m a lazy homeowner, but it’s the exact opposite. I intentionally allow those dandelions (and clover and other early flowering weeds) to grow because they help the early pollinators survive until more flowers are available to them. And I also think a lawn covered in dandelions is just as lovely as a lawn full of cultivated flowers like daffodils.

I don’t see birds foraging for insects on the lawns of my neighbors either, because they keep their lawns even more sterile than their homes, killing everything except their non-native grass with pesticides and herbicides. I know it’s what our culture has come to accept as a sign of prosperity, but those attitudes really need to change if we want to preserve the biodiversity of this planet in a meaningful way. Sometimes I feel defensive about my dandelions because I know people are judging me harshly for their presence. But I’m also judging them for the absence of dandelions and insects on their own lawns. It’s funny in a sad way, I guess. We humans are quite complicated animals, aren’t we?

White-throated sparrow in maple tree w sig - blog

By the way, if you want to hear the songs of any of the birds in this post, go to the Cornell Lab and type the bird name into the search bar. I hope you get to hear some birds singing in your yard this spring!

9 thoughts on “Focus on Home Birds”

  1. I love your shed! It’s so cute. We are looking at sheds right now, and that one is a winner. Your photo of the white-throated sparrow is amazing. Great shot! We are in the dandelion biz together; keep ’em out there, Kim.

  2. These are all lovely images, Kim. I love the Northern Flicker too. They’re just so bold and are tremendous ground foragers.
    We have a sea of yellow from dandelion in the spring and also purple from henbit and another wildflower I don’t know the name of. The pasture is about five acres of colorful beauty in spring. We haven’t used chemical since 2010, and now enjoy all sorts of insects, birds, and small mammals. It’s all about the animals,birds, and insects now. Most everything we plant keeps wildlife in mind.

  3. That lovely little white-throated sparrow in the redbud tree is gorgeous. I was very confused a number of years ago when I saw someone in England post a photo of a tiny bird and calling it a ‘robin’. It was nothing like the robins in the USA and so I questioned her and she told me the American robin is actually a type of thrush! Who knew? They are about three times the size of the English robins. I agree with you that Common Grackle is beautiful. We gave up having lawn years ago, in favour of a completely native garden and every year we have more bees and birds which is gratifying. Thanks Kim, I hope your garden beds are soon filled with plants and busy with bees and birds.

    1. Yes, Ardys, our robin is a thrush. I hope someday I get to see the European Robin. I think they look sort of like our bluebirds, another thrush.

      It’s my dream to get rid of most of my lawn, but that’s a big undertaking and I’m doing it in little bits as I can. Last year was so gratifying in terms of bees and other insects. I can’t wait to see who visits my garden this year. šŸ™‚

  4. Your patio looks very inviting. I am sure the birds think your garden is very inviting too. We live in a suburban area too. We have found that if we don’t feed during summer the house sparrows seem to thin out somewhat. It forces the house sparrows to find an area where they can find enough food for their young. Flicker is my favorite woodpecker. I know, the pileated is the famous Woody, Redheaded is the Dapper Dan, Downy and Hairy are the Sweeties and the Red bellied is the most social but that Flicker is my Fave with it’s not so domineering personality and those beautiful yellow shafts. Would I like the Redshafted as well??? or like that clown the Acorn??? I don’t know but for here the Flicker rules my heart.

    1. Aha, another woodpecker fan!! I saw Acorn Woodpeckers in Panama and I know you would love them too.As for those house sparrows, yes, that’s the reason I don’t normally fill my feeders in the summer. But right now I’m planning to be at home a lot more than usual, so I’m going to fill the feeders for a while longer and see how it goes. I just wish the house sparrows weren’t so noisy! They’re almost as bad as parrots in Texas.Ā 

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