Things you need to know
There are about 10,000 different species of birds in the world, including more than 900 in North America north of Mexico, probably as many as 300-500 in your state or province, and 100 or more in a large park. How many different kinds of birds come to your backyard depends on where you live. But one thing is certain: If you pay attention to them and make your yard attractive by landscaping and adding feeders, nest boxes, or a bird bath, you will see more than you ever thought possible.
Besides the basic treasures of their beauty and behavior, your backyard birds can offer you a perennial treasure hunt: What new birds will I see today? Will there be a species that has not visited the yard since last winter, or-much more exciting-might there be a species I have never seen anywhere at all?
People enjoy backyard birds for different reasons. Some seek relaxation in watching them; others focus intently on their visual and vocal beauty. Many learn to identify species. In a spirit of conservation, some help the birds thrive by providing food and shelter. Often, people become inspired to delve into natural history, reading books that deal with ornithology, the science of bird study.
Truly, any path you take in enjoying birds is the correct one. Whichever one you choose, a wonderful world of birding awaits you-starting right in your own backyard.
Birds live everywhere, even in the highest Arctic latitudes and in the hottest deserts-but which birds you’ll find in your yard depends largely on where you live. Of the species described in this book, expect to see only those that occur where and when the range maps indicate. Each species has its special place and time.
Some birds, such as American Robins and House Finches, live in many regions, almost anywhere on the continent. Others can be found only in particular areas. Each bird’s geographic distribution-it’s “range”-is linked precisely to its tolerance for heat and cold, dryness or humidity, and other environmental conditions. For instance, an American Tree Sparrow is adapted to breed at the edge of Arctic tundra, while a Lesser Nighthawk lives only in arid deserts of the Southwest. They could not trade places and survive.
As a result, the list of birds you will easily see in your backyard depends largely on your local environment- how your surroundings, with their particular combination of food and vegetation, match that which each species prefers.
Birds bring us special ways to observe and celebrate the changing of the seasons. After a long winter with few birds on the bare branches and none in the dried-up grasses, plants blossom and the chorus of birdsong begins, even in the lingering chill of early spring mornings. Birds that vanished for the winter after traveling far southward return, adding their own sometimes dazzling colors to the greening forests and brightly budding trees. Even the backyard’s birds that remained all through the winter are newly active and a joy to watch as they pair off for the summer breeding season.
If you pay close attention throughout the year, you will see that most bird species follow strict seasonal patterns. Bullock’s Orioles and Baltimore Orioles, for example, allow us to see their stunning beauty only during the summer months. By early fall they have departed on a long journey southward to spend their winter in the tropics. When fall arrives in the southern U.S., they will be replaced by less bright but still dapper species such as White-crowned Sparrows and White-throated Sparrows that remain all winter.
Be careful; Watching this lively annual panorama of birds’ comings and goings can become addictive!