Sunday, December 27, 2009

Backyard birding: a year in review

Having wildlife in my backyard is one the greatest rewards from native plant gardening. One easily quantifiable indicator, of the "success" of our garden is the number and diversity of species of birds that use our yard and variety of uses they have for our garden.

Although it is obviously difficult to ascribe the abundance and diversity of birds using our yard to native plant landscaping (their are no controls or replicates in this study), I look back to our previous home just five blocks away- a house we rented, and did not landscape. There we were only able to attract a few species; house sparrows, pigeons, house finches and European starlings. Our current home is in the same neighborhood, same ecotype, same proximity to natural areas, etc...but we have landscaped our yard with wildlife in mind.

Compared to the past few years, we changed little in our garden in 2009, the exception from a backyard birding standpoint is that we have been feeding less and less (click here for my feelings on this). We have cut back and stopped feeding black sunflower seeds- they tended to draw in undesirable species like house finches and squirrels (read more about squirrels here), and instead the only feed we provide is suet (click here for our conventional and unconventional feeders) and hummingbird feeders seasonally.
Here are a few highlights from 2009:
  • 40 species of birds used our yard this year. In total we have had about 60 species use the yard over the last 10 years (here is the list). Some exceptions this year were red polls (haven’t seen them in a while, and not since a "cold" (read: normal) winter, blue jays (don’t know why), and many species of warblers (though I might have missed them between building our greenhouse and training for a couple of marathons).
  • American robins were the first to return (Feb. 16) and the mountain chickadee (Dec. 14) was the most recent arrival.
  • One new species to our backyard bird list- the Brown creeper. Though not an uncommon bird, we had never had one in our yard before.
  • Black capped chickadees had two clutches. Though this happens every year, I still love it.
  • Northern flickers had a clutch. The noteworthy thing about that this year was the the male was a hybrid of two morphs and the female disappeared early on, leaving him to raise the nestlings.

Here is the list of birds in 2009:

Year-round or resident bird species
American Crow
Black-billed Magpie
Black-capped Chickadee
Cedar Waxwing
Dark-eyed Junco* (*fall-spring resident)
Downy Woodpecker
House Finch
Northern Flicker
Red-breasted Nuthatch
Sharp-shinned Hawk
2009 bird arrivals to our garden
Mountain chickadee December 12
Pine siskin October 4
White crowned sparrow October 3
Yellow rumped warbler October 3
Dark eyed junco October 3
House wren August 22
Olive-sided Flycatcher August 16
Hairy Woodpecker August 1
Northern Oriole May 28
Warbling Vireo May 27
Western Wood Pewee May 24
Yellow Warbler May 24
Wilson's Warbler May 23
Western Tanager May 21
American Goldfinch May 20
Gray Catbird May 20
Chipping sparrow May 18
Lincoln's sparrow May 16
Dusky flycatcher May 14
Black-chinned hummingbird May 12
Rufous hummingbird May 10
Ruby crowned kinglet May 2
Calliope hummingbird May 2
Golden crowned kinglet April 29
Bohemian Waxwing March 27
Varied Thrush March 26
Song Sparrow March 22
Brown Creeper March 16
Mourning Dove Feb. 21
American Robin Feb. 16


  1. What a fantastic list of birds! It must be a joy to watch out your windows.

  2. That's quite the impressive list! Good for you.

  3. The brown creeper is my totem bird--my absolute favorite of them all.

    I have mixed feelings about the feeders, too, though I do still keep a few most years, primarily so I can practice drawing the birds. Not so much this year, though. I do keep water for them, however, since that's a harder thing for them to get here, even in a garden that is landscaped for the wildlife.

  4. I applaud you for the amazing transformation from urban lawn to native garden. The huge amount of labour, planning and research that it entails is worth the effort. You must be the envy and curiosity of the neighbourhood. Do you see planting with native species catching on where you live?

    We (my spouse Robert and I) live on a 5 acre site 30 minutes south of Winnipeg (near Morris), Manitoba, that we are replanting with native flora.

    We have been documenting changes to the yard, researching and taking pictures of native flora and fauna for a few years now. We have designed and built a website around the endeavour. It presents the transformation including an essay titled why native?, concept drawings and narrative/photographic descriptions by region. There are also individual image and data pages, along with galleries and tables for much of the native flora that we are planting. The address is:

    Coleen Zebeluk

    BTW: The site works best in FIREFOX; there are still a couple of display irregularities in Safari and IE 7.

    And, viewing the site requires a broadband or high speed internet connection.


  5. Since you used so many kinds of hummingbird feeders, which ones do you recommend? I'm currently checking this one out, but wanted your opinion: