This past year has given us new relationships with the spaces we live in, and a greater appreciation for the nearby nature of backyards and urban streets. Like so many of us, I have spent more time at home than ever before, finding new ways to entertain and occupy my brain while honoring the state’s Stay At Home orders. Rather than stopping off at water treatment plants after work, or travelling to new trails on the weekends, my birding habit has shifted considerably to the small half-mile radius around my home.
In October, New Mexico made birding headlines (that’s a thing, I promise) with the arrival of a hyper-rare European Golden Plover. The small wading bird made national news as a state first, and only record west of Delaware. Scores of birders trekked out to rural Northern New Mexico and the Maxwell National Wildlife Refuge to stalk the muddy ponds in hopes of glimpsing this very lost bird.
Under normal circumstances, I would have considered this a day trip and made the three hour drive for a once in a lifetime opportunity. But the unease of straying so far from home, as well as the intimidation at the logistics of toting a six week old newborn got the better of me. Instead, I packed my binoculars in the stroller and took (yet another) walk around the neighborhood. The continuing challenges of the pandemic mean big trips to view migration might not be in the cards right now, but it also gives us the opportunity to slow down and “get to know our neighbors” by developing deep knowledge of the more common birds seen on a daily basis.Appreciation for the small and humble
More time at home means I have birded in my yard more intensely than ever before. In just the past six months, I’ve seen 55 different species in and around my yard, including a brilliant male Townsend’s Warbler, a curious female Bullock’s Oriole, and the ever pugnacious Rufous Hummingbird who took possession of the feeder. Alongside these ostentatious visitors, I’ve also deepened my affections for some of the more humble species, like the continual bickering of my House Finches or the various antics of my Canyon Towhees.
Last spring, I kept hearing very loud calls while sitting on my never-ending Zoom meetings. After a few weeks, I noticed Pine Siskins had built a nest in the Ponderosa Pine outside my balcony. I soon heard the tiny cheeps of new hatchlings. I felt so honored to be able to observe intimately the parents flying back and forth to the nest, and sitting so silently they disappeared among the pine needles. Although I have seen thousands of Pine Siskins, closely watching their behavior gave me a new appreciation for these small seed-eaters. I admired their parental efforts, especially as they maintained their care during our infamous New Mexican spring windstorms.Great Backyard Bird Count
Every February, people of all ages participate in in the Great Backyard Bird Count, a weekend-long community science project. The Great Backyard Bird Count (GBBC) is a free, fun, and easy event that engages bird watchers of all ages in counting birds to create a real-time snapshot of bird populations. Participants are asked to count birds for as little as 15 minutes (or as long as they wish) on one or more days of the four-day event and report their sightings online at birdcount.org. Anyone can take part in the Great Backyard Bird Count, from beginning bird watchers to experts, and you can participate from your backyard, or anywhere in the world. Each checklist submitted during the GBBC helps researchers at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and the National Audubon Society learn more about how birds are doing, and how to protect them and the environment we share. The 24th annual Great Backyard Bird Count takes place on February 12-15 this year.How Do I Attract More Backyard Birds?
As we make it through the winter and turn a hopeful eye towards spring, we are already excitedly planning ways we can convert our yard into a place for our family and wildlife. I recognize that I am very privileged in my access to nature. The fact that I have a backyard at all is a new luxury after a decade of apartment complexes. Statistically, easy access to the outdoors and vegetated neighborhoods is correlated with economic and white privilege. Low-income communities and communities of color have experienced systemic efforts to limit greenery and natural spaces in their neighborhoods.
Audubon’s Bird Friendly Communities seeks to transform communities into places where birds flourish. From urban centers to rural towns, each community can provide important habitat for native birds. In turn, birds offer us a richer, more beautiful, and healthful place to live. What’s the best thing you can do to make your yard, balcony, or neighborhood more bird friendly? Grow native plants to provide food for birds. While exotic and ornamental plants are beautiful, they are the equivalent of a food desert for birds. Other ways to create habitat include providing clean water sources and leaving yard waste for birds to use as shelters.
You can learn more about creating backyard habitat through one of our past articles, as well as Audubon’s Native Plant Database, and the Albuquerque Backyard Refuge program, which provides regionally specific information.