One sunny morning last month, the most unusual visitors appeared at my birdbath. Well, maybe not that unusual. It is a birdbath after all. I snapped off as many photos as I could before they hurried on their way. But after 10 minutes, cat and human noses remained pressed to the window, soaking up the scene. Finally they did take flight and I assumed that would be the last we’d see of them. Until the next day when they returned for another bath. And stayed for an entire week!
So, who were these unexpected backyard visitors? A couple of juvenile Cooper’s Hawks.
Like so many of you, I’m fascinated by our native wildlife. And while many critters can’t easily avail themselves of my yard, that’s not the case for birds. Since my hawk visitors have departed, I’ve taken steps to make my backyard more ‘bird friendly’ in hopes of inviting more avian friends in. Bird baths and feeders were easy to add and cleaning them weekly keeps visitors happy and healthy. Adding innative plants like American Beautyberry, Barbados Cherry and Turk’s Cap were next. These plants not only look great in my yard but provide shelter and food for birds, bees and butterflies. A fewbirdhouses are next, once I determine the best fit for my yard.The National Wildlife Federation’s “Create a Bird-FriendlyHabitat” has served as a great guide.
And it’s working. Carolina wrens, cardinals, robins, and even a downy woodpecker are a few of the recent visitors. Perhaps a rufous hummingbird or an eastern screech owl will make the next appearance in my bird-friendly yard.
I don’t know if I’ll see those Cooper’s hawks again, but I do know that they’ll forever be the catalyst to me becoming a backyard birder. Join me in exploring some of the larger native birds that are likely to stop by – if you lay out the welcome mat.
Backyard Birds: Raptors
The word “raptor” means “to seize or grasp” in Latin. Raptors use their powerful, sharp talons to catch prey and to defend themselves.
Birding is one of the fastest growing outdoor activities in the country. Formerly known as “birdwatchers,” birders come from all walks of life, running the gamut of professions, age, and locales. There are as many varieties of birders as there are birds – and as many reasons we enjoy it.
Whether deep in the woods or standing at the kitchen window, birding strengthens our connection to the outdoors. Birds draw us in with their complex behaviors, beautiful plumage and captivating melodies. They can be observed day and night, alone or with a group, competitively or casually. I do most of my birding while engaging in other activities like walking in the park, weeding the garden, and sipping my morning coffee. Birders also contribute mightily to the scientific world by reporting their observations through apps like Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s eBirdand Merlin Bird ID.
If you want to get a little more serious about your birding, try challenging yourself: quickly check off a list, learn to identify calls, or improve your observation skills by identifying birds in flight.
Regardless of what form birding takes, we are all held to an important code of ethics that ensures birders and birds alike are only positively impacted by this ever-growing pursuit.
(b) Avoid stressing birds or exposing them to danger.
Be particularly cautious around active nests and nesting colonies, roosts, display sites, and feeding sites.
Limit the use of recordings and other audio methods of attracting birds in heavily birded areas, and for species that are threatened, endangered or not common to the area,
Always exercise caution and restraint when photographing, recording, or otherwise approaching birds.
(c) Always minimize habitat disturbance.
Consider the benefits of staying on trails, preserving snags, birding in small groups, and following leave no trace principles including disposing of waste properly, leave what you find and traveling on durable surfaces.
2. Respect and promote the birding community and its individual members.
(a) Be an ethical role model by following this Code and leading by example. Always bird and report with honesty and integrity.
(b) Respect the interests, rights, and skill levels of fellow birders, as well as people participating in other outdoor activities. Freely share your knowledge and experience and be especially helpful to beginning birders.
(c) Share bird observations freely, provided such reporting would not violate other sections of this Code, as birders, ornithologists, and conservationists derive considerable benefit from publicly available bird sightings.
(d) Approach instances of perceived unethical birding behavior with sensitivity and respect; try to resolve the matter in a positive manner, keeping in mind that perspectives vary. Use the situation as an opportunity to teach by example and to introduce more people to this Code.
(e) In group birding situations, share your knowledge of this Code of Ethics with the group to ensure the group does not unduly interfere with others using the same area.
3. Respect and promote the law and the rights of others.
(a) Never enter private property without the landowner’s permission. Respect the interests of and interact positively with people living in the area where you are birding.
(b) Familiarize yourself with and follow all laws, rules, and regulations governing activities at your birding location. In particular, be aware of regulations related to birds, such as disturbance of protected nesting areas or sensitive habitats, and the use of audio or food lures.
By following these ethics, we ensure that both birders and the birds we admire experience safe and beneficial interactions.
Check out these past articles on birding for beginners
In 2016, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service reported that 45 million people nationwide purposefully watched birds, making roughly 1 out of 7 Americans birdwatchers
Consider yourself warned, though; birding can be addictive. “Birders” spend $41 billion annually on travel, lodging, food and equipment. Many travel great distances just to see that one elusive species, plan vacations around migration patterns, trek through difficult landscapes, and invest in the best equipment. If you’re new to bird watching you probably aren’t ready to splurge on high end binoculars or hop on a plane at a moment’s notice to chase a lead. Don’t despair, there are plenty of opportunities to view our feathered friends at your own pace and price. Simply walking outside and observing can offer plenty of reward.
That said, a few simple tools will make your birding more effective, even a cheap pair of binoculars will make a big difference. As leaves fall off of trees, take advantage of the bare branches which provide great perches for resting birds. What’s that? A small red bird, with a black mask, hopping from branch to branch. Can you identify it? Take some photographs or write down details, like size, color and distinct markings or make a quick sketch in a notebook. Identification apps like Merlin Bird ID and Audubon Bird Guide are great tools for identifying birds and collecting data that can then be shared as part of citizen science efforts. Now that you’ve identified your red bird as a male northern cardinal, you are officially a birdwatcher!
If you build it, they will come
Birdwatching can be as simple as observing with the naked
eye. It’s fun as an individual or with groups. And it can range from casual
hobby to fierce passion. When you‘re
ready to go beyond just ‘watching’ know that there are several ways to actively
bird right in your own community.
Create a bird-friendly environment in your yard, patio or balcony. Providing food, water and shelter for winged visitors provides an ecological benefit while also creating great birdwatching opportunities right outside your window. Depending on the species you wish to attract, the habitat should include a variety of trees, grasses, and shrubs to create an inviting space for birds to live, hunt, and raise their young. A general rule of thumb is “more native plants mean more insects, which leads to more birds” (ecology professor and author, Doug Tallamy). If using pesticides in your garden to control the insect population, you are removing the main food source for many birds. Adult bluebirds will eat up to 2,000 insects in one day and gather more when they have a nest of chicks to feed. A yard full of insects is like an all you-can-eat buffet for birds.
Providing shelter and food are two very important considerations if you are hoping to attract specific species to your yard. For example, did you know that red-bellied woodpeckers are attracted to suet feeders? For more tips on attracting local birds to your yard, check out this article on the Environmental Services blog. Looking for the right bird house to attract purple martins? Plans to build the perfect birdhouse to attract your favorite feathered friends can be found here.
Beyond the back yard
Filled with local and migratory birds in search of winter
sustenance, southeast and coastal Texas offers a number of prime bird watching
spots, several within a short drive of The Woodlands. When you’re ready to venture out, be sure to
check with the Houston Audubon’s Bird-Friendly Map for nearby
Hit the road early to enjoy a full day of birding and be
sure to remember the essentials for a day of birdwatching: binoculars,
sunscreen, hat, water, snacks, a notebook and pen.
Don’t forget that the annual Texas Christmas Bird Count
takes place December 14, 2019 – January 5, 2020. For more information on how you can
participate and take part in this long standing holiday program that collects
data from around the state, be sure to check out this year’s event
The Woodlands Township Environmental Services Department presents ‘An Introduction to Bird Watching in The Woodlands’. Join us Thursday, November 14 at 6 p.m. at Houston Advanced Research Center (HARC) for a presentation by Alisa Kline, naturalist at Buffalo Bayou Park. To register online, view here.
Questions? Email email@example.com or call 281-210-3800
Whether you have a home with a backyard or an apartment with a balcony, the fun of birding can be enjoyed by all. There are over 800 bird species in North America, and as many as 500 can be found in Texas alone. This rich diversity of birdlife is a testament to Texas’s diversity of habitat.
The state’s biodiversity is easily grasped when the high number of ecoregions in Texas—ten to be exact—are taken into account.
An ecoregion denotes a geographic area of similarity in its mosaic of flora, fauna, and ecosystems.
Texas’s geographic location is a crossroads where eastern habitats meet western ones and southern subtropical habitats meet northern temperate ones. Adding to the state’s super-birding aspects is the fact that it’s situated smack dab in the central flyway. During the spring and fall migrations, birders are apt to see species that aren’t generally seen otherwise. The Woodlands is situated in the Piney Woods ecoregion.
Attract birds to your landscape
By providing the essentials:
feeders and native food-producing plants,
shrubs, trees and birdhouses for nesting and shelter
in home landscapes, backyards can be transformed into bird wonderlands.
What’s growing in a backyard is key, and there are many native plants you can add to your property to attract birds and other wildlife. Here’s a short-list of some excellent ones for the Piney Woods. And remember—the best habitats address all four layers of your landscape—canopy, understory, high ground, and ground.
Birds of the Piney Woods
Here’s a look at some common and less-common birds that visit The Woodlands backyards—either year-round or seasonally during migration. See how many visit your backyard feeder this season.
Especially for birders…
For aspiring and dedicated citizen scientists of all ages, take part in this year’s Project FeederWatch, developed by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology at Cornell University. The project kicks off in November. FeederWatch data help scientists track broad-scale movements of winter bird populations and long-term trends in bird distribution and abundance.
Another great resource for birders is also brought to you by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, eBird, where bird enthusiasts can connect to and contribute to the world of birding.