Backyard Birding for Beginners

Birds are such fascinating creatures. As an environmentalist and a photographer, I am always raving about the wildlife there is to see in Waterloo and how diverse the bird species are in the area. Along with their gorgeous plumage and unique calls, birds are also an integral part in our ecosystem, which is why it’s important to monitor local and global bird populations.

Birding is an activity that some people take very seriously, but everyone can take part in the experience casually, especially this coming-weekend. February 17th to the 20th is the Great Backyard Bird Count, an annual program that encourages people to learn about the wildlife in their neighbourhood and contribute to citizen science.

This event was created by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, the National Audubon Society, and Birds Canada to involve people in monitoring the bird populations in their area. By counting the birds in your backyard, you can help scientists track migration patterns and get a better understanding of global bird populations. 

Blue jay perched on branches
Blue Jay
Cardinal perched on a tree
You can participate from the comfort of your home by setting up a chair near a window or sitting outside in your yard. If you are feeling adventurous, you can visit some birding hotspots. The goal of this event is to watch, learn about, count, and celebrate the birds in your community, so you can participate from wherever your favourite birding location is. There are plenty of birds to find at the different conservation areas in Waterloo Region, along with a variety of trails known to have plenty of bird sightings. 

If you are interested in attracting more birds to your yard, consider planting native species of trees and wildflowers. These plants host caterpillars, which are the main food source for birds. Our upcoming Bloom{in} Box sale is a great chance to get some new plants for your garden that will attract pollinators and caterpillars. 

I am not originally from Waterloo so I was pleasantly surprised by the array of bird species that call this city their home. Since living in this city, I have spotted several species of songbirds such as black-capped chickadees, cardinals, and blue jays, but also more impressive bird species like the red-tailed hawk.  

This past September, my roommates and I had just finished moving into our new apartment and were exhausted, so to relax after a busy day we went to campus for a campfire that was hosted by the school. Then, out of nowhere, this gorgeous red-tailed hawk flew by and sat on a light pole for about 15 minutes. I was so excited; I had never been so close to a hawk with my camera on me. That day I may have captured my best photo to date. 

That being said, the most common bird I’ve encountered here is the unofficial mascot of the University of Waterloo, the Canada goose.  

Red-tailed Hawk (All photos by Sydney Daniels)
Regardless of where you decide to participate from, you should be able to spot some feathered friends. When you do, record the species and the number of birds you see or hear in the eBird app or the Merlin Bird ID app. They are very helpful tools for learning basic birding identification skills.  

All entries made in those apps throughout the weekend will be submitted to the Great Backyard Bird Count. If you have a nicer camera, binoculars, or a field guide, those are great tools to enhance your birding experience, but all you really need is 15 minutes or more for at least one of the four days to participate in the event.

I would highly encourage you to bundle up, grab some friends, family, a camera, and go birding this weekend to participate in one of the biggest bird events of the year, and help contribute to the local science community with your observations.  

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