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Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Birds In My Garden

If this blog was about birds, I’d be in trouble.

My typical posts would be something like…

Oh, look, a bird at my feeder.

Oh, look, a bird eating off the ground, it must be a morning dove. Or is it a mourning dove? Or a pigeon?

Oh, look, a bird’s nest in my tree. I wonder what kind of bird nested there?

Oh, look, a flock of birds just landed in my tree. I wonder what kind of birds they are. Is it a type of bird I want in my garden? Or a bunch of starlings?

And so on.

I’ll admit, I don’t know enough about birds, or as much as I think I should know. Like most gardeners, I try to attract birds to my garden and feel validated when one chooses my garden as a place to nest and eat.

I put out bird feeders for the birds, and am happy to buy birdseed for them. (Although, I've never grown a bird from birdseed, just weeds.)

But I’m a bit suspicious when a bunch of birds are pecking at the lawn. I take this as a sign that I have grubs of some kind, or rather, my lawn has grubs of some kind, although how the birds would know that, I’m not sure.

Perhaps they just randomly peck at the ground until they find one? If there are a lot of grubs, it would be worthwhile for them to do that. If there aren’t a lot of grubs, I think it would take more energy to peck at the ground all day in hopes of finding a grub as the grub would provide them.

Therefore, when I see a lot of birds pecking at my lawn, I think there must be a lot of grubs just below the surface, feeding on the roots of the grass. (Plus I read somewhere about this being a sign of grubs).

I know enough about birds to let sunflowers, coneflowers and other such flowers go to seed so the birds will have something to eat. And I know that large shrubs, like many Viburnums, provide both shelter and food for them.

I’ve let birds nest on the curves of the downspouts, even though some bumblebees, or something related, once moved into one such nest, creating a potentially stinging situation for me. (No, I didn’t get stung removing that nest, but I could’ve gotten stung, and regular readers know I've been stung before, a couple of times, because getting stung is an event to blog about and warn others about.)

And I once let a robin nest in a wreath hanging on my front porch.

Every time I went out the front door, that ol’ robin would fly off and squawk at me from the edge of the roof, where she sat watching her nest until I was out of her sight. I soon learned to not leave by the front door. (See, I can be trained by birds!)

To reward me for my kindness of leaving the nest alone, all the baby birds left a huge mess on the porch when they learned to fly away, if you know what I mean, a mess I had to clean up with lots of water and a scrub brush. I liked it better when they nested in a nearby crabapple tree, though the mama robin still squawked at me whenever I used the front walk.

I guess I do know a little about birds, just not what kinds of birds are visiting my garden, unless they are robins, cardinals, or gold finches (yellow finches?). I think I need a good bird reference book to help me identify them. Maybe it should be one that just has birds of Indiana in it, so I don't get confused with too many choices when I try to identify the birds that visit my humble little garden?

Or maybe I should get some ‘bird flash cards’ to study in the evenings?

How did everyone else learn how to identify birds? (And yes, it seems to me that everyone else knows how to identify birds, except me!)


I think I have Bird Information and Reference Deficiency Syndrome... B.I.R.D.S
(I couldn't stop myself from coming up with another acronym.)

31 comments:

jellyfishbay said...

I like the birds too. I did the photos of birds at the feeder and birds on the ground in my post from Sunday and probably will throughout the winter. There is a website that I go to for identifying birds. It's http://whatbird.wbu.com
It's sponsored by the bird seed store that I frequent, but it has helped me on several occasions.

Kylee said...

I don't know much about birds either, but if a bird frequents the feeders, I try to take a close-up photo, then blow it up on the computer screen so I can detect identifying marks. Then I google "Ohio birds" and go from there. Sometimes they're easy to identify and sometimes they aren't. I also have "Birds of Ohio" by Stan Tekiela in my library and that is a big help!

By the way, we had yellow jackets or some sort of waspy bee make a nest in the abandoned nest in the bluebird house. I found out when I went to clean it out. They were "sleepy" and I had gloves on, so I didn't get stung, luckily.

Pam/Digging said...

I have a guidebook to Texas birds, but I don't know the obscure ones. I could do a little studying too.

beckie said...

This sounds like a great winter project Carol. By next spring you should know birds by sight-you can even learn to identify them by their song. I think there are web sites that play them. Anyway, studying up on birds will help to pass the time til you can garden again. Good luck.

Julie said...

I'm learning more about birds - my husband used to be quite a keen birdwatcher and he often spots interesting birds in the garden. the latest regular we have is a woodpecker - comes everyday to nibble at the nuts in the birdfeeder. We also get a visiting pheasant every spring.

Being able to watch wildlife close to is certainly one of the pleasures of a garden and keep it alive in the dead months of winter.

Jan said...

Carol, we bought a "Peterson's Field Guide to Birds", and that taught us how to identify the birds in our garden. It has great, clear drawings of birds (which we found better than photos) and maps which show each birds range (which helped eliminate birds that we thought we had but the maps showed never came close to us). It is great fun (and impresses people) to be able to identify the birds that are around your garden.

Jan
Always Growing

Colleen said...

I have a "Birds of Detroit" guide book that helps quite a bit. Although it's pretty easy to identify what I have the vast majority of the time: pigeons and starlings. I'm thrilled whenever I get a cardinal or goldfinch.

Sherry at the Zoo said...

Once you learn how to identify birds of Indiana, please see me to schedule a class for your niece and nephews....

Earth Girl said...

As Jan recommended, Peterson's is the preferred reference according to the Indiana Master Naturalist program I attended, although I learned from Audubon's guidebook and from friends/husband. Be careful, though, it could become another obsession. The key is to observe the bird as long as you can, noting the key characteristics, before grabbing your field guide. Both books have good overviews on what to look for to ID the bird.

Lisa at Greenbow said...

Carol, the only book about Indiana birds that I am familiar with is _The Birds of Indiana_ by Russell Mumford and Chaarles Keller. It is a coffeetable book. It has beautiful drawings and lots of good information.

Like someone suggested the Peterson Field Guide to Birds is a good book for beginners.

A couple of other field guids I think are good is the Sibley Filed Guide to Birds and National Geographic Filed Guide to the Birds of North America.

However if you decide to get a field guide, no matter what field guide you choose be sure to get a field guide to Birds of EASTERN North America. If you don't you would be overwhelmed with all the birds of North America to sift through.

Another thing someone suggested you might watch out for is the obcession that might overtake you. Watching birds as an obcession for me began in my garden. Then next the books, when you see all the birds out there you soon have to start traveling to see the birds in other areas. Of course you can always see the gardens open to the public in these areas. Lots of different habitat for birds is also good for different types of gardens. Then when you see most of the birds of North America and you can't afford to travel abroad you can begin to add butterflies to your must see list, then beetles... of course mammals...

If you get

shirl said...

Nope Carol, sorry can't help you with book suggestions here!

However, I would say that perhaps as you start looking to ID your new visitors you might find it is as interesting as discovering new plants - or maybe not ;-)

For me, in my Scottish garden, I am drawn to look up my books (covering the whole of the UK and Europe) when I spot a new visitor. I then look up what foods it likes to get an idea of why it came. Then, I supply some others that it might like. Next, I often find another new species finds its way to my garden... and so it goes :-D

I do find it fun to watch the personalities and anitcs of birds visiting my garden. Oh... but I don't always manage to find ID's in my books (through limited knowledge of what to look for) so then I refer to a birdforum with a pic (if I can get one) or a description and then my ID is usually sorted :-D

Enjoy your discovery of bird ID's for the birds that visit your garden. You could always post pics here and I am sure your blog visitors would be more than happy to help you ID yuor bird ones :-D

nancybond said...

In this area, when you see a large flock of noisy birds gathering on the lawns, it usually means that some type of fly or other insect, worm, etc. has just hatched and they're having a feeding frenzy. Birds can be a little disconcerting in large numbers -- my daughter used to be terrified of them. :)

Anonymous said...

I don't have birds in my backyard at all. I have VERY BIG hawks that live there and eat any birds that try to live there. I could brings you a few hawks for Christmas. Maybe stuff them in your stocking??? No birds... just hawks ans SQUIRRELS. YUCK. See you Christmas. Your favorite S.I.L.

Gail said...

I suspect you already know a few of the regulars! I bought Peterson's Field Guide to Eastern Birds. I have been able to id most birds that stop by for a visit..good luck, you are going to get hooked on birds. Gail

Robin's Nesting Place said...

I know the most common birds, but sometimes I have difficulty identifying the ones I'm not as familiar with.

I have several bird books and honestly none of them totally please me. I don't feel that any of them have enough pictures. Few have pictures of both male and female birds. I prefer pictures to drawings.

I have the book Indiana Bird Watching that I bought at Wild Birds Unlimited, and it has been pretty useful. My favorite resource is the internet. I've found the best pictures of birds from some of the wonderful bird watching sites.

If you find a good Indiana bird book let me know.

Leslie said...

Golden Field Guide's Birds of North America is one of my favorites. It does have too many birds as someone said, but I've found it to be the most help identifying new birds. My grandma knew all about the birds in her garden and I grew up thinking I should know about birds (and stars), at least the basics. When I was in my 40s I finally took time to learn a bit...it's not to late for you to do the same!

Robin's Nesting Place said...

Carol, actually the book I bought at Wild Birds Unlimited is "Wild About Birds". So far, it is my favorite bird book. It isn't just a field guide, but a great overall resource for attracting birds to the Midwest garden.

MA said...

Patience patience patience and careful study. Get a great bird book. Roger Torey, Sibley's, whichever one appeals to you. And then join the rest of the flock.

CIELO said...

Me too, B.I.R.D.S must be contagious... ;) In fact, on Thanksgiving Day a rare bird landed on my garden; as if by magic.... it was such a gorgeous bird, but I couldn't figure out what it was... maybe a prairie falcon??? Any way, what I knew about it was that it didn't belong in my garden.... it was truly a present sent from above... ;) I will be posting about it in my next post....

Cielo

Mr. McGregor's Daughter said...

You definitely aren't alone in suffering from B.I.R.D.S. When I was a kid, we had a bird ID book with the range & color illustrations, but I still always get sparrows & finches confused. Be careful if you do start taking an interest in birds. You could end up like my old boss, whose every vacation was a birdwatching adventure to places like Antartica and the Central American rainforest.

Jenn said...

Gee, am I the first one to be able to ID the birds in the tree?

Starlings are a European import (some wise guy decided he wanted all of the birds Shakespeare mentioned to live here in the New World.) They group up into huge flocks in the fall to move southward, sometimes staying in snowy areas when the foraging is good. Starlings are opportunists of the finest feather; what they are probably doing on your lawn is gleaning seeds.

I love the starlings for their winsome chatter, and for their winter feathers, which does look like spotty stars against a dark winter's night sky.

They are nuisance nesters, getting into cracks and crannies like up in my neighbor's soffit. Imagine that bird mess your robin left up in the attic of your house! Yuck!

Starlings and their imported cousins, the English Sparrow, are the birds most likely to be nesting in the lighted signage on storefronts, making a mess below. Look up! Or better not...

A surer sign of grubs in your lawn are the arrival of moles. These guys specialize in delicious grub removal.

Katie said...

No worries, I suffer from B.I.R.D.S. too.

Kathy said...

Well, now you know what to tell your family when they ask you what you want for Christmas!

oh said...

a complete delight to stumble across on this demi-wintry night as I sit huddled at my PC trying to coax the muse out from under my couch, or waste bin, or wherever she's hovering.
I have a very similar picture. I don't know my birds that well though I photograph them (also when I'm looking for the muse).
Thanks for this!

Carol said...

All, thanks for all the great book suggestions and the warning about turning into an obsessed bird watcher. Me? Ha, no way... I think.

Anyway, I'll be checking out the books and reporting back in future posts as I identify other kinds of birds in my garden.

(and I had a sinking feeling those birds were those pesky starlings...)

Carol, May Dreams Gardens

Mary said...

They are starlings, Carol. Not a very popular bird for good reason. The agriculture industry in this country is always plagued with Starling nuisance. But they will eat the grubs!

Anyway, you really need to be careful about watching birds. It can quickly become an obsession :o) Before you know it, you'll be buying a camera with a super zoom, expensive binoculars, and clipping coupons for all sorts of bird cuisine!

I have the Sibley's Guide (drawings), and a few other books but I prefer photographs. Stokes Field Guide to Birds - Eastern Region, North America is my favorite - the first book I go for when I need info. The color photos are great and there is a section on the most commonly seen birds. Also, it's a smaller book that fits in my handbag if I'm inclined to carry it with me. On Amazon, I think it was only about $15.

You always make me laugh.

Mary

Naturegirl said...

Birding is a great way to pass the time..either studying in books and seeing with your eyes..I love them all.. the energy they bring to a barren winter garden for me is wonderful! I can easily identify the birds in my space because they are the same ones and when visiting other birders blogs..I get to know more by name.Enjoy birding Carol!

Cindy, My Corner of Katy said...

I have a Stokes' guide to birds and find it helpful. The Cornell website is an excellent source of information, too. ihttp://www.birds.cornell.edu/AllAboutBirds/

The verification word is dense. To which of us is that referring?

Arija said...

It would be nice to know all the birds one sees by name but as one grows older and the sands of time run low other things seem more inportant. Take one bird at a time when you recognize that without having to think what it is, start on the next one. In time you will learn what distinguishing marks to look for and it will all get much easier. One day you will wake up and not think about identifying them at all, they will have become your friends.

Entangled said...

Look at Robin's Nesting Place and match up her photos with the birds in your yard. ;-)

But seriously, check bird forums and blogs in the Indy area and it's a good bet that the birds you're seeing are the same ones they're reporting. That really simplifies the process of looking them up in a book or online. There's only about 10-15 species that are regular visitors to feeders at any given time of year.

Sue said...

We have robins, blue jays, cardinals, doves, and lots of sparrows. I have seen an occasional crow, and used to have wrens. Other than that, I am not so knowledgeable. A few months ago, I bought a book called The Backyard Birdsong Guide, A Guide to Listening, by Donald Kroodsma. You can push a button to listen to the sounds different birds make. Now, have I been reading and listening? Not yet. Maybe I'll get it out tomorrow when our grandson comes over.