Why You Should Start a Yard Bird List

Wednesday, May 20, 2020
Spring is a very exciting time of year for backyard birding and if lockdown had to happen, we couldn't have asked for a better time for it! We may be noticing some different birds in our yards that we hadn't had the chance to observe before simply because we didn't have the opportunity to watch our feeders and yards that we are currently being given. Now is the perfect time to start a list to track all of those cool new birds.. but why? Here are my top reasons for why I believe everyone should have a yard bird list.
Rose-breasted Grosbeak (Pheucticus ludovicianus)
Get to know the birds in your area
Keeping track of the birds in your yard can help you get to know the species that live in your area and which seasons they can typically be found in. It can help you note key differences between species that you may not have noticed before (sparrows are easily confused with one another), and help you to correctly identify the sexes of each species. For instance, a male Purple Finch looks entirely different from his female counterpart and could be mistaken for another species altogether. Making a yard bird list pushes you to learn how to accurately identify species without making assumptions.

Contribute to science & conservation efforts
Throughout the year there are several citizen science projects which call for birders, beginners and experts alike, to report the birds they see in their yards. Some of these projects include Project FeederWatch, the Great Backyard Bird Count, Journey North, and eBird. While each of these projects are different in their own way, they all serve the same purpose: save birds! And you can help by providing information on the birds you see in your yard. The information you submit to each of these projects is invaluable and is used to track migration routes & population numbers, study how habitat loss, climate change, and pollution affects birds, and so much more.

Indigo Bunting (Passerina cyanea)
Lifelong learning & excitement
Your yard bird list is one that will last a lifetime. It's never truly finished because you just never know who might show up in your yard next. We have around 500 bird species in Ontario, plus the rarities that show up on occasion and make everyone's heart flutter! Regardless of a list, birdwatching is an extremely exciting and rewarding hobby. But being able to add a bird to your list that you've seen right in your own yard (especially if it's a lifer!) adds a special touch of pride and accomplishment.

What your list should include
The information you include in your list is entirely up to you - it's yours, after all! What you choose to include in your list depends on what you are looking to get out of it. If you are happy with just knowing what species you saw in your yard and maybe the date you saw it, then keeping it simple is the way to go. If you're hoping to gain a little more knowledge about the birds in your yard and how they interact with one another, what the like to eat, etc. then a more complex list is your best option. Two things you will want to include for certain are species name (including scientific name if you wish) and the date you saw it. Other pieces of information you may choose to include are the time of day you first saw the bird, weather at time of sighting, where you saw it (ie. in cedar hedge, at pond, etc), if it ate anything in your yard (from feeders or otherwise), unique behaviours & markings, and how many you saw of that particular species. Another thing to consider when starting your list is what you will count as a "yard bird". Will you include only birds that you have seen directly in your yard? Or maybe birds that you have heard or seen in your yard? Will it count if you can see the bird from your yard, even if it's not IN your yard (ie. in your neighbour's yard or neighbouring field)? Maybe you'll have multiple lists like a master list of all the birds you've seen in your yard over time, and a yearly list for birds you see each year. Again, these are personal choices you can make based on what you'd like your list to be.

An early arrival (late March) Yellow-rumped Warbler (Setophaga coronata) drinking from a WBU Heated Bird Bath
How to attract more species to your yard
1. Provide water: Every bird needs fresh and clean water to drink and bathe in. By providing a consistent source of water you have better chances of attracting a wider variety of birds than if only providing food, such as the Yellow-rumped Warbler seen in the video above.
2. Plant native & say no to pesticides: If you've read any of my previous blogs, you know that I am a huge advocate for native plants. Why native? Our native wildlife and native plants have evolved together and know each other. Native plants provide the best source of food, shelter, and nesting habitat for our bird species. They work with our wildlife rather than against them, creating a truly wildlife-friendly habitat.
3. Offer a variety of foods: It's simple - different species of birds like to eat different types of food. What one bird will eat, another may not. For example, American Goldfinches are strict vegetarians and will only eat seed such as Nyjer or Finch Blend, whereas most woodpecker species prefer suet, nuts, and insects. Incorporating seasonally savvy foods like BirdBerry Jelly can also help attract a wider variety of fruit-eating birds in the spring and summer months like Scarlet Tanagers or Gray Catbirds.
4. Install nest boxes: Providing safe spaces for birds to live and raise their families is an important step in creating a wildlife-friendly yard. Nest boxes are available for a wide range of species from chickadees to barred owls, and can help to increase the number of bird species you see in your yard.

To learn more about attracting birds and other wildlife to your yard, be sure to check back for next week's blog, 'Increasing Backyard Biodiversity'.

Do you have a yard bird list? We want to know how many species you've had visit your yard and which ones you were most excited about! Let us know in our Facebook group Ontario Birds by WBU Barrie.

Happy trails!
- Shayna

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