Nature – Backyard Birds


Hi campers! I hope that you have been enjoying these nature lessons and have been able to spend some time safely exploring the great outdoors. This week our focus will be a few of the birds that usually visit our backyards.

Meet Miss Birdie’s pal Sunnie the English Budgie

Birds are amazing!  They come in such a variety a colors, patterns, and sizes. Birds are easy to find too! There are very few places that you can go without locating birds. Being able to easily watch these beautiful creatures as they go about their daily lives makes them so much fun to observe.

I hope that you enjoy learning a little more about some of our common avian friends and that you discover some beautiful feathered gems right in your own backyard.

Fun Facts about the Northern Cardinal

I just love watching Northern Cardinals in my garden. Right now, there is a family of 5 that I see regularly; 2 adults and 3 youngsters. The young ones are typical siblings constantly chasing each other around!

Male Cardinal
Male Cardinal
  • The Northern Cardinal is one of the most easily recognized backyard birds in the Eastern and Central parts of the U.S.
  • If you have a feeder, the Northern Cardinal is usually the first bird to show up in the morning and the last bird to leave at dusk.
  • It is the state bird for 7 states, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, North Carolina, Ohio, Virginia, and West Virginia.
  • It is one of the few types of birds in which both males and females sing.
  • Males can sing up to 200 songs in an hour. They can sing 24 different songs.
  • The song of the Cardinal often sounds like “birdie, birdie, birdie” or “cheer, cheer, cheer”.
  • Male Cardinals have bright red feathers with a black face. Females are tan with slightly red wings or tail feathers.
Female Cardinal
Female Cardinal
  • There are a few yellow cardinals. Their yellow color is due to a lack of red pigment in their feathers.
  • Male cardinals can be very territorial; they sometimes attack their own reflection in the rear-view mirror of cars, house windows and other reflective surfaces.
  • They eat insects, fruit, and seeds. At feeders they prefer sunflower seeds.
  • They like to nest in shrubs and other types of undergrowth.
  • Cardinals are one of the species of birds that use “anting.” Anting is when they hold an ant in their beak and wipe it on their feathers. It is believed that this helps them to keep away parasites like lice.
  • There are 19 subspecies of Cardinals.
  • The Northern Cardinal got its name for being the northern most one found in the world.

Fun Facts about Mourning Doves

Mourning Doves spend a lot of time in my garden. They quietly gather seeds from under the feeder. Currently I have been observing 2 young mourning doves. For a while they would find their mother and peck at her begging for seeds.

Mourning Dove
Mourning Dove
  • Seeds make up 99% of their diet. They usually feed on the ground. In my yard they eat the seed that the other birds spill from the feeder.
  • They eat 12 to 20% of their body weight per day.
  • They get their name from the sad sound that they make, it sounds a little like “hoo, hoo, hoo”. Sometimes people think that they are owls due to their similar sounds.
  • Males have favorite “cooing” perches, which they defend. In your neighborhood these perches might be a power line or tree.
  • They are fast flyers. They can fly up to 55mph. When they take off quickly the wind rushes over their feathers making a whistling sound.
  • They are also known as Turtle Doves.
  • They are the only type of bird that feeds a special “pigeon milk” to their babies when they are first hatched.
  • They are also the only type of bird that drinks water without lifting or tilting their heads.
  • When you see one perched the shape looks like an ice cream cone.
  • When you watch them picking up seeds, they are not eating all of them. Some of the seeds are stored in a special place called the crop.

Fun Facts about White Winged Doves

In my yard sometimes the White- winged Doves try to perch on the bird feeders, it is very awkward for them due to their size and they usually fall off!

White Winged Dove
White Winged Dove
  • You may be lucky and have a little bit bigger dove in your backyard called the White- winged Dove.
  • White -winged doves are easy tell apart from Mourning Doves because they are larger and have a white patch on their wings which looks like a stripe along the edge of their wings when they are perched.
  • White- winged Doves also have a very colorful face with bright orange eyes and blue eyelids!
  • Most White -winged Doves live in the Southwest U.S. but they are expanding their range.
  • They are also called Singing Doves or Mesquite Doves.
  • They can live in the desert. In the Sonoran Desert they eat the nectar, pollen, fruit and seeds of the Saguaro Cactus.
  • They can fly 25 or more miles to find water.

Fun Facts about the Carolina Wren

Carolina Wrens are small, noisy spunky birds that often nest around people’s houses. At my house I see them hopping around the bushes in my garden grabbing insects to eat.

Carolina Wren
Carolina Wren
  • They are the state bird of South Carolina.
  • Carolina Wrens use hair, feathers, and other soft materials to make their nests. They also use snake skins!
  • They will often make their nests around people’s homes in all kinds of objects including flowerpots, mailboxes and even boots!
  • They spend most of their time on the ground. They do not fly far.
  • Keeping a brush pile in your yard may encourage wrens to make a home there.

Fun Facts about Red Bellied Woodpeckers

Sometimes I will see a Red Bellied woodpecker on my Mulberry tree. In the spring they ate the Mulberries. They sometimes will visit my feeders clinging awkwardly to the perch. Earlier in the year there was a male that tapped on a metal gutter on the side of the house every morning!

Red Bellied Woodpecker
Red Bellied Woodpecker
  • Like most woodpeckers they do have red on their head, but they also have a little bit of red on their belly.
  • They eat insects, fruit, and berries. They will eat black oil sunflower seed at feeders.
  • They often store food (make caches) by making rows of small holes and placing a single nut or seed into each one.
  • Their body is designed to cling to trees with strong tail feathers to support them and 2 back toes to lean on.
  • They have fuzzy noses. Their nostrils are covered with fine feathers. This helps to keep out the dust and splinters created when they tap into trees.
Red Bellied Woodpecker in Nest
Red Bellied Woodpecker in Nest
  • They do not get headaches. Their bills are designed to distribute shock throughout their sturdy skulls.
  •  They have super long tongues. They can stick out their tongue up to 2 inches past the end of their beak to grab their prey.
  • The male does most of the work excavating the nest. Most nest cavities are less than 50 feet from the ground, but some nests have been as high as 120 feet!
  • They are attracted to noises that resonate.  The male will sometimes tap loudly on metal parts of houses to attract female.

Inviting Birds to Your Yard

Bird Feeding Tray
  • It’s fun to attract birds to your yard but here are some things to keep in mind:
  • Keep your feeders clean and dry.
  • Provide a water source or birdbath. Many birds do not eat seed, but all birds need to drink and bath. Rinse your birdbath out daily.
  • Keep cats indoors. Even well fed cats will prey on birds.
  • Plant only native plants. Native birds are adapted to eat the fruits and seeds of native plants or they eat the native insects that are attracted to native plants.
  • Having a variety of sizes of native plants will give birds hiding and nesting places.
  • Leave a brush pile in your yard for wrens and other insect eating birds.
  • Put wing clings on windows to help birds avoid crashing into your windows.
  • Avoid using pesticides in your yard.
  • If you can do so safely, keep snags (dead trees that are standing) in your yard. They provide food and shelter for many birds and other animals too!

Observing Birds

Watching birds is one of my favorite things to do. Birds are so beautiful and interesting to observe. To me its like a treasure hunt everyday- you never know what bird you might see or what new behavior of a familiar bird you might get to witness.

I hope that you and your family can take some time to look for the birds in your neighborhood. I have even included a link to some bird cams that will let you watch birds on days that you stay inside.

Don’t worry if you don’t have binoculars, you can still watch birds and their interactions.

Here are some ideas to think about as you look for birds. If you are keeping a nature journal you can draw pictures of the birds you are seeing or describe how they look or what they are doing.

Happy Birding!!

  • Take a bird walk with your family or watch where birds gather outside your home.
  • How many different colors of birds can you find?
  • Look for foods that birds might like to eat. Can you find any birds eating those types of food?
  • Find a place to stand or sit quietly in nature preferably in the morning. Listen for bird songs.  Try to see if you can find the bird singing. The best way to learn each type of bird song is to see the bird actually singing. See who in your family can imitate each type of bird that you hear.
  • Go out to observe birds at different times of day. Which time of day is the best for seeing the most birds?
  • What is the most common bird that you see outside your home? If you keep observing as the seasons change, see if the most common bird that you see changes or stays the same.
  • Watch bird behavior as you take your bird walk. What do you see birds doing?
  • Are they foraging (looking for food), preening (grooming their feathers), flying (by themselves or in a flock), hiding from predators or doing something else?
  • Challenge your family to see how many different birds that you can find at home or at a local park.

If you’d like to see birds in other areas, here is the link for some live bird cams from the Cornell Lab: