Sep 23, 2020 | Featured in: Watching Backyard Birds, October 2020

Look Beyond the Feeders for the Best Backyard Bird Watching

Want to make the most out of fall birding? Look at the sky above your yard, and listen for sounds you haven’t heard before.
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What a long year the past few months have been. For many people, the "opportunity" to spend more time at home has brought a new awareness of their neighbors—the critters that visit or dwell in their backyards. Here at Watching Backyard Birds and Bird Watcher’s Digest, we’ve seen a surge of new subscribers, insanely busy web traffic, an increase in questions and email about birds, and, in general, a measurable increase in interest in wild birds. Those of us who have enjoyed backyard bird watching for years or decades are secretly wondering why it took the newcomers so long to discover this fascinating, rewarding, fun, and shareable pastime.

For those new to this hobby: Welcome! And a warning: Bird watching can be addictive and time-consuming. But get ready—activity at your feeders will pick up as natural food sources wane and autumn progresses. And if you find that rewarding, I encourage you to look beyond your bird feeders and into the shrubs and foliage in your yard. Look at the sky above your yard, and listen for sounds you haven’t heard before.

When I lived in southern Indiana, even though I maintained a bunch of diverse feeding stations and a heavily used birdbath, my biggest backyard birding thrills were elsewhere. Each fall, I delighted at the first hearing of a distant yodel: sandhill cranes heading south. I could run outside, gauge the flight direction, and sometimes enjoy a long, noisy V of huge birds passing overhead. (Yes, I did count sandhill crane as a yardbird even though they only occupied airspace.)

Once, a male black-throated blue warbler landed on a tree branch not far from my bird feeders while I was nearby. As an insectivore, it wasn’t tempted by my diverse seed offerings. Maybe it was on its way to my birdbath, but my presence discouraged it. What a thrill for me, though! Fall migration is so much more than hummingbirds departing and juncos arriving. Especially in the early fall, look beyond your feeders for visitors from the north passing through. You might be in for some wonderful surprises—in your own backyard.



About Dawn Hewitt

Dawn Hewitt is the editor at Watching Backyard Birds and Bird Watcher's Digest. She has been watching birds since 1978, and wrote a weekly birding column for The Herald-Times, a daily newspaper in Bloomington, Indiana, for 11 years.

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  • I have the same situation. The feeder is attached to the middle of a large picture window that goes ceiling to floor w/ no ledge or sill for animals to climb or balance. Yet every morning all the sunflower seeds have been cracked open and hulls left. Any ideas what it is?
    by Liza Fox, Sun, 15 Nov 2020
  • I have a bird feeder that sticks to my window and I've been hearing noises against the window at night right now its going on. But whatever it is it is aware of me. And when I get to window it leaves.I can't imagine a squirrel or mouse or possom being able to get at it. ...So as I was reading this article im to assume no bird eats at night. Or no birds will eat at night. Why is that? Then im also thinking of a sinereo that could a lost confused bird eat at night. This eating thing is watching meI turn out the light go there noise dissappears..Thank you.
    by Nosferatu, Thu, 05 Nov 2020
  • I have metal baffles (cones) on my pole for my bird feeders. Something is still tempting them at night. What else could it be? Deer???
    by Ella Spencer Connolly, Thu, 27 Aug 2020
  • I found where he lives, then I keep him up all day by singing at full volume! Hah, that'll show the little sucker!
    by Pike Juan, Tue, 11 Aug 2020
  • I never knew feeding birds could be so confusing. I love watching the birds in my backyard even though I don't get a very big variety.
    by JustMyOpinion, Sun, 26 Jul 2020