Dec 12, 2014 | Featured in: Watching Backyard Birds, December 2014

Make a Resolution to Start a Yard List!

If you're serious about feeding the birds, why not keep track of the bird species that you have seen at your feeders, in your trees and shrubbery, or otherwise in or over your yard or property?
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You don't have to be an avid birder to keep a bird list. If you're serious about feeding the birds, why not keep track of the bird species that you have seen at your feeders, in your trees and shrubbery, or otherwise in or over your yard or property?

I've been keeping a yard list since shortly after we moved into our house in the summer of 1991. The first bird on my list was a blackcapped chickadee. Here are my notes from that sighting:

"Hung the small bird feeder on the west side outside the bathroom window. Filled with sunflower seeds. About three days later, chickadees began to visit. They've been emptying it almost daily."

By the end of that year, we had 11 species on the list. By the next year, 30! Now at the end of 2014, my yard list stands at 97! I could probably have a few more if I was better at identifying warblers!

Even all these years after starting the list, I'm still adding birds. In May this year, I added an osprey and mallards, all seen flying over my house. Then in August, I was thrilled to add a least flycatcher to my yard list.

Why Keep a Yard List?

First of all, it's fun! Fun to keep, fun when you can add a new bird, and fun to look over from time to time. For that reason, it's also nice to write a few notes about each new sighting.

You keep the yard list for yourself, but if or when you move out of the house, it's something you can pass on to the new residents. It might increase the value of your home in the eyes of potential buyers when they realize that your home and yard is a refuge for the birds.

How to Keep a Yard List

Your yard list could be as basic as a list of all the bird species you see in your yard, written in pencil or pen and taped to your refrigerator. You will probably also want to record the date you first saw the species in your yard. You can count the bird whether it is seen at your feeders, in the yard or trees, and even those that you see flying overhead.

I live in Upstate New York. The Checklist of the Birds of New York State is a listing of all the birds ever seen in the state and has helped me figure out some of the birds that have turned up in my yard. Your state probably has a bird checklist, too, that could serve as the basis for your yard list. Many field guides also have a checklist in them, usually combined with the index, and that could function as your yard list.

I use a nice little spiral journal, so I can record not only the bird and the first seen date, but also some brief notes about the sighting—pertinent facts such as the weather, how I identified it, field marks, behaviors observed, etc.

You can also use such a journal to include seasonal return dates, like when the hummingbirds or juncos return to your yard each year. It's amazing to see that there's not a lot of variation in those return dates. I also use it to record fledgling sightings. I often refer to these return dates and fledgling sighting dates to know when to start looking for these occurrences each year.

If you're more high tech, there are programs on the Internet to create and maintain bird lists such as your yard list.

It's Not Too Late! Start a Yard List

It's never too late to start a yard list, even if you've lived at the same address for years. Right now, jot down all the birds you know you've seen in your yard in the past. Or make a New Year's resolution to start one on January 1.

Then, as you see a bird that isn't on the list, add the bird and the date. Keep your eyes peeled for new birds to add to your yard list.

The nice thing about a yard list is that there's no competition involved, no need to compare it to someone else's list—and no rules. A yard list is all about you and your birds, and the satisfaction you get knowing that you're providing a refuge for the birds right in your own backyard.

About Nancy Castillo

Nancy Castillo is co-owner of the Wild Birds Unlimited Nature Shop in Saratoga Springs, New York. You can follow the bird activity in her yard at The Zen Birdfeeder blog.

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