Mar 20, 2019 | Featured in: Watching Backyard Birds, April 2019

The Best Backyard Bird Watching of the Year

Prairie warbler photo by Bill Thompson, III.
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Who doesn't love spring?

Flower buds are pushing up through the soil, birdsong is filling the air, trees are just starting to leaf out, and there's a promise of fair weather ahead—what's not to enjoy?

The "usual suspects" are still at our feeders, since their natural food sources are not yet as conveniently available as the free fare we provide. However, be sure to look beyond your bird banquet for even more joyful signs of spring. Warblers, tanagers, flycatchers, kinglets—birds that don't typically visit feeders—may be making an appearance in your yard, especially during migration.

Many birds that spend the winter in tropical locations migrate long distances at night, then use the daylight hours to refuel. If there are trees, berry-producing vines, or dense shrubbery in your yard, there are probably transient birds foraging there that you might never have seen at your feeders.

The trick to spotting these unexpected visitors is to listen for them. Turn off your cellphone/TV/radio, walk into your yard, and begin listening. Listen for unfamiliar sounds, those that are different from your feeder birds' usual noises—even just chirps and chips. Then try to track down the source of that sound, watching carefully for movement. Take your binoculars with you, but don't hold them up to your eyes until the sound and movement tell you exactly where to look.

Early spring is a great time for this practice, not only because birds are passing through as they head north, but also because the vegetation hasn't fully leafed out, so you'll be able to see deeper into the trees and brambles.

Don't give up! There's skill involved in hearing, spotting, and getting a good look at some of the shyer birds, but the payoff is so rewarding. There could be a hermit thrush or a yellow warbler in your oak tree right now!

Good luck, and best wishes for amazing yard birds this spring.

—The WBB Team



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  • I live in Southeastern Massachusetts. Four "orphaned" very young poults (males) showed up in my yard about a year ago. They have been around all year. I do feed them cracked corn, and they come when I call for them. I don't want to over- domesticate them, but they do recognize me as the lady that brings food. They roost in the big oak trees at night. I have a 1 acre lot, with many acres of protected forest out back and a pond on the property.Lately, during mating season, I have had hens in the yard too. We've counted as many as 7 Toms and hens, but today, had just the one stalwart (a very robust Tom) that comes everyday. One of the Toms that has recently made an appearance is wounded, limping with an obvious predator wound. The local wildlife experts say he should make a full recovery, and that he's best left to recover with his flock.I find them to be interesting and beautiful birds.
    by Heather Cole, Mon, 06 Apr 2020
  • You have to put food in it.
    by Truckee Man, Mon, 06 Apr 2020
  • Love listeningto both songs and calls from birds in our woody neighborhood. The two types of birds I immediately recognize are the cardinals and the chickadees. Yesterday afternoon too, I heard a woodpecker. Then it’s time to check the birdfeeders and the birdbath. Then In no time at all the cardinals and chickadees arrive, as if they had been watching me. As it gets busier around the feeders, I also hear thé screeching of the blue jays. I even saw a couple of robins checking out our lawn....spring has arrived as the last pat gesofisticeerde snow and ice melt away.
    by louisabt, Sun, 08 Mar 2020
  • I am wondering about existing nests for Phoebes. I have two outdoor aisle entries to my barn and there are old Phoebe nests up. They ignore them each year and build new nests adjacent to the old, but space is running out. Should I knock down the old nests so they can rebuild?
    by [email protected], Sun, 02 Feb 2020
  • Just wondering, should we put anything in the bottom of the box...twigs, clippings, leaves....anything at all?
    by Hebb, Tue, 28 Jan 2020