One thing I’ve learned watching birds in my backyard is that there is all kinds of activity going on in the yard that I never see. Today, about five-thirty, it was getting dark and I just happened to glance out the front window and realized that it was full of American Robins. I counted twenty-four, although there might have been more in the darkening yard. They were all spread out over the whole front yard doing their quick scurry, pause and listen, scurry again dance, turning over leaves and excavating here and there, looking for choice insects.
I watched them for about ten minutes and then they were gone. If I hadn’t happened to look out at just the right time, I would have missed them. This kind of thing happens all the time. I walk past a window just in time to see a mad explosion of activity as the birds flee, probably from a hawk, but I just missed it. I come home and pull in the driveway to see a huge Turkey Vulture sitting on the fallen log in my front yard. What brought it there? I don’t know because I wasn’t there at just the right time to see it.
In the winter, especially once the screens are traded out for the storm windows, I feel cut off. There is all kinds of bird activity outside, but the windows muffle the sound. I can still hear one of the male Carolina Wrens singing loudly, answered by a rival, but with the windows closed, I can’t hear the long drawn-out rattle-like call of the female who I know puts her two-cents into the conversation whenever the males sing like this. I can hear the Blue Jays calling to their buddies to announce that I’ve put the peanuts out for them or alerting every bird within ear-shot that there is a predator around. But I can only hear the softer chips of the Northern Cardinals or the irritated call of a Tufted Titmouse if I go outside.
I find sitting outside quietly watching the birds to be incredibly relaxing . . . well, at least when the Red-Winged Blackbirds and Eastern Starlings aren’t in mob mode in the yard. If I sit very still and low to the ground, the birds will return to their activities within a little bit of time. They still keep an eye on me and maintain a bubble of space between them and me, but they go on with their day.
When I’m sitting outside, I see things that I can’t see from the house. Anytime I spend time outside, I usually will see at least one vulture or a hawk of some kind circling high above the neighborhood. And if the Cooper’s Hawk pays a visit to the feeders, I’m there to see it. Lately I’ve been seeing Ring-Billed Gulls flying over the yard and at some times of the year I’ll see V’s of Canada Geese or Chimney Swifts returning home late on a summer afternoon. When I’m sitting outside, I can sometimes hear a tapping on the trees that divide our property with our neighbors. Turning my head, I see a Yellow-Bellied Sapsucker drilling her holes in a pine tree. All of this is pretty invisible from the house.
Sometimes, even in the winter, it is worth bundling up to sit outside for a little while and see what you can see. You may be surprised at the birds that live in your yard that you never see through your windows.
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