My Kind of Bird Watching

Today we participated in the Great Backyard Bird Count, which is sponsored by the Audubon Society, the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, and Bird Studies Canada.

GBBC brings together tens of thousands of people from around the world to compile data that scientists use to evaluate the state of our feathered friends. This year it started on February 12 and will wrap up tomorrow, on the 15th.


Participation is very flexible, and you can devote as little as 15 minutes. Even better, we can do it from the comfort of our heated back porch.

Judy and I decided to start our bird counting once we saw a Cooper’s Hawk sitting on the back fence this morning.Β We wanted to impress the scientists at Bird Count HQ. Though most likely they were not nearly as excited as we were. We see a hawk in the back garden just once a month or so on average.



Or course, all the other birds stayed scarce until after the hawk had moved on for a while. One of the first to emerge was the Northern Cardinal. We’ve seen an unusually large number of Northern Cardinals this winter. They make echoes of Christmas color when they perch in front of a deep green Japanese Yew.


They like safflower seed, but this one needs to learn to chew with his beak shut.


There were quite a few American Goldfinches as well. I think I saw just the beginnings of their bright summer plumage coming back. They do enjoy the heated birdbath (aka the Bird Jacuzzi).


We saw many Downy Woodpeckers. Though I have a hard time distinguishing one Downy from another, and I can’t be sure that I’m not counting the same bird multiple times. I just do my best and assume that Bird Count HQ Β can make sense of it all.

On the other hand, the Harries and Red Bellies didn’t show even once while we were counting. Which is a shame, because they normally make a few appearances every day.


White Breasted Nuthatches are energetic and playful little critters.


I do sometimes wonder why they love peanuts so, since peanuts are legumes that grow under the ground.


I’m never positive when I try to tell a House Finch from a Purple Finch. I say House Finch above, what say you?

We saw a total of nine species during our 45 minutes of bird counting. In addition to the ones shown above, there were English Sparrows, Mourning Doves, and Juncos.

Are you taking part in the Backyard Bird Count this year? It’s not too late. For more information, check out this link.


65 Comments on “My Kind of Bird Watching”

  1. Me too!! It was a quiet day in my back yard in the morning when I watched. I also had lots of American Goldfinch, but no cool hawk. Lucky you to see that. There was a gorgeous Great Horned Owl perched in a neighbor’s elm tree this afternoon behind me, but alas, not in my watch area. There were also few birds in the back yard at that time. Wonder why???

  2. Lots of activity in your backyard! This is the first year I’ve participated. It was fun! I think that’s probably a House Finch. I’m not a bird expert by any stretch, but it appears to have a brown crown and brown cheeks. A friend who works for the DNR said most of the ones we see in the Upper Midwest now are either House Finches or hybrids. Great photos, Judy! Great writing, Jason!

  3. It’s interesting to see the differences in garden birds between a typical UK garden and your birds. That Cardinal – beautiful! We don’t have anything that colour. And the nuthatch is pretty. Ours has a grey head and back with a black stripe from its eye and a orangey belly which is also pretty but different. There was the Great Garden Birdwatch here at the end of January run by the RSPB (UK equivalent of Audubon) so I guess they could be working together. Great photos.

  4. Very cool shot of the hawk! I am never able to get very close to photograph them. They are in and out frequently but shy. I’ve never had luck with the peanut feeder like you have. I buy hulled peanuts and they are very popular with the titmouse and nuthatches. I like your suet feeder too! Do you have a special homemade recipe?

  5. Great photos Jason and Judy, we had a Sparrow Hawk visit here last week but I’ve read its a sign of a healthy bird population and that if we did not have hawks to regulate small bird populations, there would not be enough food to support them anyway, so have decided to be relaxed about our visitor. I can imagine seeing your raptor close up was quite exciting.

  6. My bird count would basically be a bazillion LBJs. The blue jays like peanuts in the shell – I’ve never seen a nuthatch at the feeder, though. 😦 And I never seem to get more than one pair of cardinals. A little frustrating considering the number of feeders and the variety of foodstuff I put out there.

  7. Your cardinals fill me with envy. We are across the river from a bird sanctuary so we have many visitors. It always seems that the bird count happens when we have only the little brown birds to count. Later on it gets much more interesting.

  8. Our counts are similar (central Indiana) except I had multiple chickadees this morning as well as the cardinals, finches, doves, sparrows and the hawk. I have a hawk that has decided my feeders are a daily buffet this winter. The doves seem to be the slowest, poor things. I know hawks need to eat too but it’s discouraging to find the circle of dove feathers in the yard every single day.

  9. I forgot to count birds but have had loads of cardinals this year, too. I offered my birds a raspberry but they’ve turned their beaks up at it preferring to chow down on the sunflower seeds and peanuts. I suppose they didn’t like my ‘lite’ menu. πŸ˜‰

  10. Glad you are participating in the bird count! Great pictures too. I am always frustrated because I can’t watch for the entire weekend. Maybe I’ll take those days off next year… I did have Goldfinches show up, I think they got the invite.

  11. I’m sure the Cooper’s sighting will impress someone, it did the trick for me!
    I like your thinking on doing the count from the back porch. I don’t think it would be much of a stretch for me to keep an eye on the backyard feeder from the kitchen table, so maybe that’s a plan for next year!

  12. I’m impressed that you got a good enough look at the hawk to tell it a Cooper’s from a Sharp Shinned! Very often I see an accipiter like that and say either a male Cooper’s or female Sharpie. lol Very occasionally I get a really excellent look and can get a(lmost) definitive ID.

    Definitely a house finch in the last picture. Peterson says that purple finches look like they’ve been dipped in raspberry juice. I have seen exactly one purple finch that I knew what a purple finch. House finches have really pushed them out.

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