That red bird is a Cardinal, that big
blue bird is a Blue Jay, that fussy little brown bird is a Carolina Wren.
Without even trying, most of us can identify a number of birds. As ones interest in birds
grows, so does the desire to know them by name. Of course, migrating birds, just passing
through, can bring almost any species to your backyard, but given a food supply and the
appropriate habitat, certain birds tend to show up fairly regularly during the year in
Even though robins are not seen year round
in backyards, most everyone recognizes the American Robin. This ground feeder is so
well known that it is used by the authors of bird field guides as the median size bird.
It is convenient to be able to describe a bird as larger or smaller than a robin.
Another bird, which feeds mainly on the
ground, is the Eastern Towhee. The towhee is sometimes confused with the robin,
since like the robin it has reddish-orange color on its breast. However, the towhee is
smaller and slenderer than the robin. The towhee thrashes about in leaves looking for
insects, as does the Brown Thrasher. The Brown Thrasher likes to rummage
through brush and leaf piles, which offer protection as it searches for food. Both
thrashers and towhees will forage under feeders when leaves or grasses are on the ground.
Although we often see the
perched on road-side utility lines, it is a frequent suburban visitor, eating on the
ground or from open trough feeders. A game bird in Alabama, the soft gray-brown dove has a
plaintive cooing call that suggested its name. The diet of the Mourning Dove
almost entirely of seeds and grain.
In most of Alabama, we are fortunate to
have beautiful red cardinals all year round. As children, most of us referred to cardinals
as red birds, but as you look at them in your backyard, you notice some cardinals are
bright and others are dull or partially red in color. All cardinals have crests, but the
duller cardinals are females or possibly young males, which have not yet matured into
adult male plumage.
What is the small bird with red markings
perched on the backyard feeder? Although the female is plain, the male House Finch
shows red on the head, breast, and rump. In the United State the range of the House
Finch was confined to the west, until the 1940s when it was introduced into the
general bird population on Long Island. After coming into the east as a caged bird, it was
sold as the "Hollywood" finch. Since its re-lease, the House Finch
has grown enormously. If you have a feeder in the yard, there is a good chance
it will be
visited by a House Finch, which is primarily a seedeater.
Two other small birds often seen in
backyards are the Tufted Titmouse and the Carolina Chickadee. As suggested
by its name, the titmouse wears a crest on its head. The titmouse is mostly gray with a
whitish breast marked by small splashes of orange under the wings, which grow brighter
during the breeding season.
Its distinctive black, white, and gray
coloring makes the Carolina Chickadee easy to identify. Smaller than the titmouse,
the pretty little chickadee appears to be wearing a black cap or a toupee. Chickadees and
titmice frequently are found together and eat happily at bird feeders, enjoying both
seeds and suet.
The Carolina Wren is a busy backyard
bird that does not usually visit feeders. If you find a wren at your feeder, more than
likely it is looking for insects. The little brown wren, with its upturned tail, will
build a tunnel-like nest in hanging baskets, in mailboxes, and on ledges. Nesting wrens
are very boisterous and scolding when you approach the vicinity of their nests. Busy wrens
are entertaining, and if you are lucky, you may get to see a parent wren tending its
Often misidentified, the
Woodpecker is sometimes mistakenly called a sapsucker or a red-headed woodpecker. The
male Red-bellied has a red cap and red on the back of the neck, with black and
white speckled wings and back; the female has red only on the back of the neck. However,
the heads of both male and female mature Red-headed Woodpecker are entirely red.
The belly of the male Red-bellied is blushed with red during the breeding season---
hence its name. While the Red-bellied Woodpecker is much more common than the
Woodpecker, both will eat from bird feeders, sometimes hanging precariously from
small perches. If you want to coax nesting woodpeckers into the backyard, leave some dead
tree limbs---thats where they make nest holes.
A member of the crow family, the handsome
Jay is another commonly recognized bird. Once a wilderness bird but now adapted to the
suburban environment, jays will visit feeders for sunflower seed and suet. The intelligent
jay is often discouraged from backyard visitation. Even though two-thirds of its diet is
vegetative, on occasion jays do eat small birds or eggs.
The favorite blue bird is the
Bluebird. While they are not likely to visit a feeding station, the Eastern
Bluebird may find its way into your garden if there is open fly space around your
home. Bluebirds like to hang out at woodland edge where they can fly out to snare insects,
which make up a large portion of their diet. Like woodpeckers, titmice, and chickadees,
bluebirds make their nest holes in dead trees or limbs.
They will also use a birdhouse as will chickadees and titmice.
Recognizing the birds in your garden will enhance your enjoyment and help you provide the proper food and habitat for each species.
When you first make an effort to identify birds, it seems almost impossible, but it grows
easier as you go along. Clearly, the more birds you can identify the easier it is to
figure out the species of the next new bird that stops by your yard.
A bird field guide
with illustrations and written descriptions of birds is a great aid in
learning to identify the birds you see in your yard and as you travel. Bird Apps
for smart phones and tablets are also a handy way to learn to identify
birds. Many apps include birdsongs as well a photographs and range maps.