2014-10-30 / Nature

Backyard Birding Adventures

By Jack Kelly


Black-capped Chickadee Black-capped Chickadee The natural world, with all of its secrets and mysteries, is as close as one’s own backyard, front porch, or even a fire escape. An outing with nature may be as simple as pouring a cup of coffee, sitting at the kitchen table, and looking out the window at a bird feeder. It is estimated that over 30 million Americans maintain feeders.

The late fall and winter seasons are prime times to begin an adventure in nature by observing the various colorful birds that visit feeding stations. During this time of year, natural insect prey and seeds may be scarce, so many avian species will seek out feeders. Birds need to consume large amounts of nutrients and protein during the cold months for energy and to maintain body warmth.

Starting a feeding station is easy and economical. Most major retailers, hardware stores, and discount outlets sell bird feeders and birdseed. Feeders and seed choices depend upon which types of birds you want to attract. Larger birds such as cardinals and jays prefer platform stations with an assortment of sunflower seeds and small nuts, while smaller species such as chickadees, finches, sparrows, and titmice prefer tube feeders with a wide variety of small seeds.


Cardinal (Photos by Jack Kelly) Cardinal (Photos by Jack Kelly) Suet blocks and suet cages will enhance a feeding station and bring a wider variety of birds including Downy Woodpeckers, Red-bellied Woodpeckers, White-breasted Nuthatch, and Brown Creepers, and will provide a vital protein source. However, not all of the birds attracted to the station will eat directly from the feeders. Ground-feeding species such as Mourning Doves, Song Sparrows, White-throated Sparrows, Carolina Wrens, Juncos and others will forage for seed spilled from the feeders.

Reliable food sources will keep birds returning regularly to feeding stations. Providing a constant supply of fresh water will also ensure repeat visits. Bird feeders and water supplies need to be kept as clean as possible to maintain the health of the birds and to prevent the spread of avian diseases through droppings or unsanitary conditions. All items should be cleaned on a weekly basis at a minimum. Always remember to wash your hands thoroughly after filling or cleaning feeders and water apparatus.


Jack Kelly, a native Newporter, is a wildlife photographer and nature enthusiast who enjoys sharing his experiences with others. Jack Kelly, a native Newporter, is a wildlife photographer and nature enthusiast who enjoys sharing his experiences with others. The optimum site for feeders is a sunny, windless southeastern exposure close to shrubs, bushes, hedges, or trees that will provide escape and safe haven from predators. They should be placed in an area that best affords the birds shelter and safety.

Bird feeders offer a window into the natural world and are a great family project that may inspire future biologists, ornithologists and naturalists. Quiet observations may lead to an understanding of avian behaviors, feeding techniques, and plumage changes and adaptations.

With the holiday season approaching, bird feeders make excellent gifts for wildlife enthusiasts, children, and seniors who find it difficult to get out and engage directly with nature. There are field guides for novice or casual observers viewing a new feeding station. The Friends of the National Wildlife Refuges gift shop at the Sachuest Point National Wildlife Refuge and the Norman Bird Sanctuary’s gift shop offer both the Peterson’s and Sibley’s field guides for bird identification, as well as beginners guides and books on backyard birding.

For more information or tips, visit allaboutbirds.org or the Cornell University Lab of Ornithology at birds.cornell.edu. Local nature organizations such as the Audubon Society of Rhode Island or the Norman Bird Sanctuary also offer tips and guidance for backyard birding at asri.org or 401-949-5454 and normanbirdsanctuary.org or 401- 846-2577.

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