Bird’s Eye View: Twelve Birds That May Pay a Visit to Your Backyard Feeder


Winter has faded away again, and the rain will soon change to sunshine, which means it's time for outdoor activities again, such as sports, camping and gardening. However, an overlooked hobby might be bird-feeding, which many people actually do year-round.  Yet, for beginners, they may wonder: Where do we start ... ?

If you are fortunate enough to have your own backyard, you need look no further than that. Even a small patch of green in a packed city can harbor a treasure-trove of feathered friends.  First, select an ideal spot in your yard, located close to a tree or patch of bushes.  Birds, especially songbirds, need to feel comfortable when they are dining, and this will give them an easy escape in case of danger (hawks!).  Once you have decided upon your locale of choice, it's a good idea to visit your local supermarket or hardware store.  They should have a wide variety of bird feeders in various sizes.  They might even look like mini-homes or houses!  These can either be hung from a branch or sprig or actually nailed to the thick portion of a tree trunk (If you're worried about harming your Maple or Oak, you can use wire and wrap it around instead).  You may also be interested in purchasing a pole feeder, which is designed to deter squirrels (However, such a thing is difficult, as the furry critters are very persistent!). 

Okay, now that you have your feeder or feeders, you may ask what type of seed is best?  Again, your supermarket should have a ready supply of inexpensive wild birdseed in one, five and 10-pound bags.  This is often a mix of various seeds, such as Millet, Sunflower and Cracked Corn.  Seed bells and cakes may also be available and are a nice alternative if you decide against an actual feeder (They can be hung anywhere and are simply nibbled away).  But again, a general mix will attract a variety of birds, so it's best to diversify. Of course, certain seed does attract certain birds, but we'll cover that later on in the article.  

Now that you have your feeder and seed ready, it's time to choose your spot.  That is, where you are going to watch from, as you'd like a nice comfortable ringside seat.  A porch is always a possibility, or an open kitchen window.  Remember to not get too close to the birds, however, or else you'll be bird-watching all alone! Once you have decided upon this secluded rendezvous, set out your seeds in generous portions.  You'd be amazed at how quickly a flock can clean you out! It can happen within a matter of minutes!  One thing: If possible, it's also a good idea to provide clean fresh water for your feathered pals.  A birdbath is an option, but a simple shallow container will also suffice. It can be placed on the ground below the feeder and will give them a chance to catch a quick drink.  Very often, this is even more important than seeds, so it's certainly something to consider.

So, you've set everything out and you're ready to do some serious watching.  You have your binoculars, your camera, your notebook. Just one problem: where are all the birds?  Yes, it can be discouraging at first to watch an empty feeder swinging in the breeze.  Please don't take it to heart, as it's not personal, and it doesn't mean the birds don't like you! Just give them a little time to notice the new food source you've provided, as it can take a couple of days.  Believe me, they will catch on, and before you know it your backyard will be filled with bird music!

Therefore, now that we've discussed how to go about it, let's turn our attention to your visitors.  That is, the types of birds you're going to see, many of whom will become regular customers. Living on the East Coast of North America, you can expect the following breeds to pay you a visit. You may see a few of them, you may see all of them, but here are the top twelve you can pretty much count on:

House Sparrow (Common Sparrow) - Don't be surprised if they're your first sighting, as they are found all throughout the country and abroad.  They are brown-colored, the females being more pale-feathered, while the males have a darker plumage around the face and beak. These little guys will visit year-round and can make quite a "cheep-cheep!" racket when in flock.  They feed on Millet and bits of Cracked Corn, although they will consider almost any small seed!

House Finch - Another visitor you can expect early, this pretty little bird is another common breed. Its range has increased over the years to now include nearly all of North America, as well as some islands in Hawaii.  The female is brown with white feathering in the body, while the males are a pinkish-red around the head, breast and upper back.  Like the Sparrow, they will receive any small seed with a smile, although they do enjoy Thistle Seed particularly!  Expect visits year-round, although migration is not uncommon.  Their call is a delightful and melodious song, not unlike a flute full of flowing music!


Cardinal (Northern Cardinal) - The state bird for a record seven U.S. states, this stunning flyer is admired worldwide.  One of the more handsome birds you will ever come across, it is somewhat skittish due to its rich coloring (attracts predators).  The male's plumage is a deep red on the body, tail and short beak, with black markings under the chin and eyes.  Their call is high-pitched and rhythmic, and you will learn to recognize it when you hear it.  The female is equally stunning in her appearance, having red plumage around the edges of her wings and tail.  The body is brown to aid in camouflage, and both sexes possess a short crest which may be raised when alarmed.  These birds look exceptionally stunning in winter, contrasting starkly with white fallen snow.  They enjoy Millet, Cracked Corn and Black Oil Sunflower Seeds, and will usually feed year-round. 


Blue Jay - The largest bird you will most likely see at your feeder, this beautiful critter is another well-known visitor.  They will announce their presence with a loud cry and can be somewhat aggressive around other breeds.  Their coloring is the same in both sexes, a light blue to lavender blue, with white, black and blue cubes or squares around the wings and tail, creating a dazzling and stunning pattern.  The breast is white with dark black around the eyes and back of head, and it possess a blue crest, which is raised when alarmed, and the beak is long, pointed, and black, allowing the bird to actually gulp its food.  Blue Jays are found in nearly all of North America and feed year-round, preferring both Black Oil and Striped Sunflower Seeds.  If they happen to drop a tail feather on the ground, I suggest using it as a decoration!

Black-Capped Chickadee - One of my personal favorites, this tiny little bird is a real treat around the feeder. Its call is very distinct, a pitch rising then falling fast (DA-da! DA-da!). Its plumage starts with its namesake, a black-capped head and dark chin, having a white-gray breast ruddy brown along the sides, with silver wings and tail completing the look.  This particular breed has been known to be very friendly, even taking seeds directly from the hand of people. It prefers Millet and small black oil Sunflower Seeds but is not known to be picky.  Found throughout all of North America, expect this fellow to feed year-round.  Again, this is a lovely little bird, and will truly brighten any backyard. 


Mourning Dove - Perhaps my favorite of all, this wonderful bird can sometimes be mistaken for a small brown pigeon.  Although in the same family, let me assure you that they are certainly not pigeons!  They gain their name from their mournful call, which is usually drawn out in five low tones, and their wings make a distinct high-pitched whistling sound, especially when flying away suddenly.  Their coloring is brown along the plump body and tail, with black spots across the lower back.  The beak is thin and fairly sharp, while the feet are reddish in color.  There is also a bluish ring around the eyes, giving the bird a distinct and striking look.  A handsome visitor to any feeder, they tend to gather in significant numbers. Found all across North America, expect them to be present year-round.  Being ground feeders, they prefer Cracked Corn, but of course, will not fuss about other options!


Tufted Titmouse - Upon first glance, you might assume this bird is a little gray Blue Jay! Not so!  This songbird is a member of the Chickadee family, and is similar in size.  Their call is high-pitched (de-de-de-de-de!) and they are found throughout the Central and Eastern U.S. Usually a year-round feeder, they have been known to fly south in certain regions, so keep your fingers crossed!  Their coloring is gray on the back and tail, with a short crest and black beak, and the breast is white, with brown markings on the underside of the inner wing (Just like a Chickadee!).  They enjoy Millet, as well as small nuts, and tend to be shy around feeders.  But don't despair:  Once you gain their trust, I'll sure you'll become great friends! 


White-Breasted Nuthatch - You may see this odd little bird on a tree first, creeping and hopping up and down the trunk, searching for insects.  Their large heads and sharp beaks are designed for this purpose, although they'll always stop in for a few seeds!  They have a black band across their head, with a gray back and white breast (obviously!).  There is a patch of brown on the underbelly, and the tail is somewhat short.  Their call is blunt and repetitive (dat-dat-dat-dat-dat!) and they tend to nest in the same location year-round. They are also partial to Sunflower Seeds and nuts, as well as Suet (animal fat).  They are found all across the country, except for some extreme regions in the South. If you see them creeping around, don't be alarmed!  They're just looking for a quick snack!


Dark-Eyed Junco - A member of the Sparrow family, this bird can be found across North America.  It flies south for the winter in many locations, so odds are it may only be a visitor to your feeder in certain months.   Its call is a high-pitched "chip-chip-chip-chip-chip!" and is voiced in a rapid and continuous manner.  The Junco can be found at both feeders and on the ground, preferring small seeds such as millet. The head and body are grayish black, with the beak short and the breast white.  The female can be lighter in shades or degree, mixed with browns both dark and light.  There are many subspecies of this breed, varying in color depending upon their habitat.  Odds are good they'll pay you a visit, so be sure to make them feel welcome if they do!


American Goldfinch - One of the most spectacular birds you can ever see, the American Goldfinch is a common visitor during the summer months (Migrates in Winter).  It has a great preference for Thistle Seed and will often target feeders offering this treat exclusively.  Their call is rapid and high-pitched, often sounding half a dozen times or more at once (di-di-di-di-di-di!).  The coloring of the bird is overwhelming and striking and can be noticed almost immediately.  The male is bright-yellow gold on the body and back, with black wings and a black patch on the head, while the female is a darker yellow on the body with black wings, lacking the darker patch above the eyes. Faint white stripes can be seen throughout the wing and tail portion, and the beak is short and stout.  The Goldfinch is found throughout all of North America, and is the state bird of Iowa, New Jersey and Washington.


Red-Winged Blackbird - A very interesting visitor to backyard feeders, the male version of this bird is known for its brilliant red patch and yellow wing bar.  These are clearly visible while at rest or in flight, with the remainder of the body being a shiny black color.  The female has a brown body with a white-streaked head and stout beak, and the call of these birds can be a throaty "Oh-la-LEEE!" They are found throughout all of North America, and even some portions of Central America. They do fly south for the Winter, so expect them in the summer months in Northern states.  More suited to ground-feeding, they prefer Cracked Corn and Suet, but also eat berries, plant seed and insects.


Downy Woodpecker - Knock, knock ... Who's there? ... Downy ... Downy who? ... Downy Woodpecker, that's who!  Yes, you'll be able to hear them before you see them!  Just follow the bill-hammering drum sound!  The last on our list of bird buddies, they may be the most interesting of the bunch! Found all over North America, this noisy neighbor nests in dead tree cavities it creates, and is a casual visitor to backyard feeders, preferring Suet and Peanut Butter.  These can be provided in a special metal feeder hung from a tree branch that has openings on the top, bottom, and sides.  The woodpecker will hang on to this structure and snack away, without worry of falling to the ground! Both male and female of the species are nearly identical in appearance, with black and white streaks as well as spots across the head, wings and back, and the belly is a pure white, with the bill sharp and very strong.  The only difference is a red patch, which is worn by the male on the back of the head.  The species is like the Hairy Woodpecker, but smaller and with a different bill length.  They forage in trees, picking at bark, and are seen at feeders most often in wintertime.  However, if you send them a Suet invite, I have a feeling they'll show up anytime!

So then, there we have it. Our short list of feathered flyers you might see this Spring. Of course, this is a very short list. Hopefully you'll see many more birds than what we've covered here. One thing: If you have never tried bird-feeding or birdwatching before, I do hope you will consider it. Both can be wonderful hobbies and very rewarding, drawing you closer to the natural world around you...

Happy Birding!

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