You may have heard of birders doing a “Big Year”, that is seeing how many birds can be seen in North America in one year. There was even a movie about this, called The Big Year, starring Steve Martin, about 3 avid birders who compete and travel all over to see who can break the North American record for how many birds can be seen in one year. Well you can do your own big year right in your own backyard. All you have to do is create an excellent bird feeder and bird attracting property and watch and record who shows up. January is the perfect time to start. Here’s what you need.
1. Start with an excellent bird feeder set up. Make sure you include in winter multiple tubular, hopper and screen and suet feeders filled with a variety of quality bird seeds and suet. Focus on providing black oil sunflower, seed mixes that contain a good amount of black oil sunflower, and for finches, Nyjer (thistle) seed. Also include suet which is a calorie-rich food that provides much needed energy for birds in cold weather. Place feeders near cover so birds can escape wind and cold. Place feeders on poles with squirrel baffles, located 12 or more feet from any place a squirrel can jump from. Clean off snow from feeders. The more feeders you have the more kinds of birds you will attract.
Winter target birds: in addition to regulars like chickadees, titmice, goldfinches, nuthatches, cardinals, jays, Downy and Hairy Woodpeckers, juncos and White-throated and White-crowned Sparrows, you may attract more rare species like Common Redpolls, Pine Siskins and Evening Grosbeaks.
Female Bluebird feeding fledgling at mealworm feeder
2. In spring and summer keep all the same feeders you had in winter and add hummingbird and oriole feeders, mealworm feeders, fruit and jelly feeders. Also add bird baths filled with clean water. These feeders and baths will attract birds that may not come to regular seed feeders. You can expect to attract bluebirds, orioles, catbirds, warblers, hummingbirds, wrens, robins and mockingbirds. At your regular seed and suet feeders you may attract birds that are only here in spring and summer such as Rose-breasted Grosbeaks, Red-Winged Blackbirds, Northern Flickers, towhees, Chipping Sparrows and Indigo Buntings.
American Robin on crabapples.
Ruby-throated Hummingbird at Salvia "Lady in Red" flowers
3. In spring plant flowering Crab Apple trees, berry producing shrubs, cone and nut producing trees and red tubular flowers for hummingbirds. Use native species when possible. Birds that do not come to feeders may be attracted to this wild food. For example, Cape May Warblers may stop on migration and drink nectar from the Crab Apple blossoms. Cedar Waxwings eat many kinds of berries.
4. Learn to identify the birds at your feeders and in your yard. You will need a bird guide such as Stokes Beginner’s Guide to Bird Feeding, Stokes Field Guide to Birds: Eastern and Western Regions.
5. Get binoculars so you can see the birds. The best for bird watching are binoculars that are 8x42. These magnify birds 8 power. Get the best you can afford and you will be rewarded with beautiful close looks at birds. Keep the binoculars near the window and wear them around your neck when you go outside.
6. Learn the songs and calls of birds. Birds sing mainly in spring and you will hear many more birds than you will see. Get Stokes Field Guide to Bird Songs CDs that give you all the songs and calls of birds.
6. Place comfortable chairs or a bench outside where you can overlook your feeders and also see your property. Scan the trees for visitors that may not come to your feeders.
7. Now the fun part comes. Keep a record of who visits including birds that you see or hear. Keep your record in a journal, or notebook or get a checklist of birds that can be expected in your area from your local nature center. You can turn in your sightings to the national (and international) bird database, ebird.org. You will be amazed at how many wonderful birds you will see over the year and it will motivate you to improve your property to attract more birds.