Devoted birders document the migration of their avian obsession. More than 80 species pass through New River Valley offering a variety for tracking and observation. For backyard bird-watchers, stock the feeders, sit back, and enjoy the show. Sparrow, wren or finch, it matters not to backyard bird lovers.
The birds you see depend on location and season. On a winter’s day, you can easily spot our state bird, the cardinal, which lives here year ‘round. Put out sunflower seeds, and they will love you forever. Hummingbirds work their way back from South America with warm weather. Goldfinches will search for thistle feeders year-round; they don’t have vibrant yellow feathers until breeding season, so you may not realize what you’re seeing.
Some 65 million Americans feed and watch birds, and you can be assured “if you build it, they will come.” You don’t really need to build anything; just set out a bird feeder or bird house. Whether you live in town or on open farmland, all you need to get started is birdseed and water.
Think about where you will have the best view, while considering maintenance. Hanging at eye level from your window is nice until you need a 15-foot ladder to refill it. Some feeders attach to windows with suction cups and provide close-up observation. Others hang neatly from tree branches or mount on a deck railing. The spring season, when things are just budding, offers the least natural food sources.
Tossing seeds on a deck or in the yard is tempting, but food on the ground is easily contaminated—by dampness, mold and droppings. To control the birds dining at your buffet, provide smaller amounts or certain varieties. Feeders that restrict access, by vertical bars or wire mesh coverings, discourage large birds and squirrels. Removing perches on feeders is an invitation to the “clingers”— finches, chickadees, titmice and woodpeckers. Doves are the ground cleaning crew, and you’ll see them happily eating the seeds other birds have dropped or tossed out.
If birds suddenly abandon your feeder, it probably needs a good cleaning. Wet, moldy seeds and droppings harbor salmonella. If you feed all year, move the feeder a few feet each season to allow the ground beneath to refresh.
Birds don’t have teeth, so adding grit to your feeder is helpful. Mixing crushed eggshells into your spring seeds provides birds with extra calcium needed to produce firm eggs.
Attracting birds means uninvited guests show up like squirrels, chipmunks, rats, mice, starlings and house sparrows. Feral cats and neighborhood kitties are a threat. For safety, don’t locate feeders near bushes that offer predators cover for surprise attacks.
Also, place feeders where squirrels can’t easily reach them (although watching their acrobatics is entertaining). Squirrels scare away birds, dig through seeds, make a mess, and chew through wood or plastic feeders. There are “squirrel-proof” feeders, and metal or plastic around the mounting pole works well. Install feeders 10 feet from or below a tree limb to deter jumping to the feeder.
Put out multiple houses, and don’t be surprised to find twigs, straw, grass and animal hair in more than one. Male wrens build several nests to entice the object of their affection, offering her a choice of homes. Bluebirds are selective. They search for entrance holes smaller than 1 ½”, no perch at the door and facing east. Perches provide starlings and other predators easy access.
Many feeder visitors will nest in nearby trees, but some prefer birdhouses. Free blueprints are found online at https://suncatcherstudio.com/birds/bird-house-plans/, and there’s even a birdhouse with a wireless camera online, a great educational tool.
Bathing and Drinking
Birds need to drink and bathe to maintain their feathers and provide skin hydration. Ideally, a bird bath should be no more than two inches deep in the middle. A simple DIY birdbath can be made with an upside down large flowerpot and a big saucer on top.
Birds love dripping water if that’s an option. The birdbath will attract more variety of birds, and their splashing and preening, fluffing and looking full of themselves is entertaining.
Birdwatching by Season
Spring ~ Bluebird, indigo bunting, catbird, dove, hummingbird, gnatcatcher, goldfinch, grackle, rose-breasted grosbeak, perhaps a scarlet tanager.
Summer ~ Most springtime birds remain through summer and into fall. Red-winged blackbird, American robin, brown thrasher, barn swallow, towhee.
Fall ~ Many summer birds stay through fall, and migratory birds briefly appear. American kestrel, sharp-shinned and broad-winged hawks, magnolia warbler.
Winter ~ Winter months are for tougher species, like red-breasted nuthatch and mallard. Many birds make the NRV their year-round home. Blue jay, cardinal, chickadee, Carolina wren, flicker, dark-eyed junco, nuthatch, song sparrow, tufted titmouse, and Downy, pileated, and red-bellied woodpeckers.
Text by Jo Clark
Jo Clark is a birdwatcher with her Nikon. She says with her 400 mm and 600 mm lenses, she can even tell if those birds are sweating! Check out her bird photography tweets at glass_have or on Instagram @JoGoesEverywhere