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.

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 am excited to have my daughter’s tree this year, since my landlord has removed the lovely yew next to my patio, which was the only shelter for birds at my feeder.
    by pmalcpoet, Mon, 20 Dec 2021
  • Goldfinches will continue as long as Swiss chard is available. I'm watching one eating chard right now (mid-November in Vermont).
    by Brian Tremback, Sun, 14 Nov 2021
  • Birds are on the decline though sunflowers are rarely touched and for weeks hardly .eaten. I'll try a few sparing nuts on the table and a fat ball broken for jackdaws and tits but mealworms were a summer favourite being my go to choice
    by Paul Harabaras, Thu, 04 Nov 2021
  • I’ve been enjoying goldfinches eating coneflower/ echinacea seeds in my new pollinator garden! I will leave the plants out all winter for them if the seeds keep that long? Or should I deadhead and put them in a dry area? Im in CT and thought they migrated, but didn’t know they put in winter coats! What do they eat in winter without bird feeders?
    by Anne Sheffield, Sat, 04 Sep 2021
  • Hi Gary, I will pass your question along to Birdsquatch next time I see him. He knows infinitely more about nocturnal wildlife than I do. Where do you live? That's pretty important in figuring out the answer. But the thief could be raccoons, deer, or flying squirrels. Do you live in the woods? Are there trees near your feeder, or must the culprit climb a shepherd's hook or pole? Dawn Hewitt, Watching Backyard Birds
    by Dawn Hewitt, Mon, 30 Aug 2021