Jan 10, 2018 | Featured in: Watching Backyard Birds, February 2018

Birds Beyond the Backyard

While you might see a snowy owl in your backyard, your chances of seeing one are greatly enhanced if you go out to their preferred habitat: wide-open fields, prairies, open dunes along beaches, and even the open, grassy expanses of airports.
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This winter has seen a huge incursion of snowy owls from the Arctic. Most of these birds are young of the year moving south trying to find food and safe spots for roosting. It seems there was better-than-normal nesting success this past spring and summer for snowy owls in the tundra-covered Arctic regions, and this bulging population has pushed south. Here in southeastern Ohio, we've already had two snowy owls within a few miles of the Watching Backyard Birds/Bird Watcher's Digest offices.

That hasn't happened since the mid-1990s.

While you might see a snowy owl in your backyard, your chances of seeing one are greatly enhanced if you go out to their preferred habitat: wide-open fields, prairies, open dunes along beaches, and even the open, grassy expanses of airports.

More than 800 bird species regularly occur in North America—most of them beyond our backyards. So it's completely worth it to venture afield occasionally in search of birds that probably won't come to visit your bird feeders, birdbath, nest boxes, or bird-friendly landscape. The best way to do this is with friends or fellow bird enthusiasts.

It's easier than ever to connect with your local birding community, thanks to the Internet. Local bird and nature clubs, nature centers, state parks, refuges, and even some bird watching retail stores offer regular field trips to birding spots in your area. And in case you're nervous about your skills not being up to snuff: There's no need to worry. Simply identify yourself as an interested beginning bird watcher and people will be eager to include you in their outings and to help show you the basics of watching birds in the field. It's really no different than birding at home—except the bathroom and fridge are usually a bit farther away.

We're coming up on the best time of year for bird watching: Spring migration will be here before we know it! So, if you're a mostly backyard bird watcher, consider spreading your wings and heading out in search of some new and exciting bird species. Birders are the friendliest people on Earth, and you'll be richly rewarded.



About Bill Thompson, III

Bill Thompson III is the editor of Bird Watcher's Digest by day. He's also a keen birder, the author of many books, a dad, a field trip leader, an ecotourism consultant, a guitar player, and blogger.

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  • I had a pair nesting for the first time this year at our farmstead in South Dakota. Boxes put out for Bluebirds which didn't come, but these were a very pleasant consolation.
    by fluffypeanutcat, Tue, 25 Sep 2018
  • This is a good point. While cleaning mine, I kinda got the impression the cheep cheeps were waiting on me since they started chirping as soon as I brought it outside again. I swear they are so smart. Within five minutes of filling the feeder up, they are there to feast.cheers Cheep cheeps!
    by Kimber timbers, Fri, 20 Jul 2018
  • Hahaha, I love the ending remark "that area will have already been well -fertilized!"I've noticed that there are more cheep cheeps right after I clean the bird feeder compared to how many there are right before it was cleaned...so cheep cheeps do like and appreciate a well maintained feeder and they are worth the effort. : )
    by Kimber timbers, Fri, 20 Jul 2018
  • The storm saying seems true so far. We had as party at our bird feeder right before our last storm... 6 at once but different cheeps cheeps would come and go so there were more than 6 for sure..and squirrels eating with the birds
    by Kimber timbers, Fri, 13 Jul 2018
  • I know and do clean my feeders both for seed and for hummingbird liquid. I have a vase full of different size brushes that are only for this purpose. I have friends however who NEVER clean their feeders or bird baths, and it’s gross! I am ringing this article and will have to give out to the few offenders I know. I can’t imagine looking at such mess and not cleaning it, but not everyone thinks resale. Part of responsible bird watching/loving is to make the time and take the effort to do this.
    by Carol, Tue, 10 Jul 2018