The Beauty of Backyard Birds.

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Want to add a little beauty and life to your backyard? Try putting up a birdfeeder or two. In our yard, we have hanging wire feeders for peanuts, sunflower seeds, thistle, and suet. We also put birdseed in a stone bowl and spread some on the patio for the ground feeders. Different birds prefer different food and feeding locations, so adding a couple of different feeders may increase the variety of birds you attract to your yard.

Chestnut-Backed Chickadees, Oak Titmice, and Scrub Jays are daily visitors at our peanut feeder, while Purple Finches tend to dominate the sunflower seeds. American Goldfinch and Lesser Goldfinch love the more expensive thistle seeds. Nuttall’s Woodpeckers and White-Breasted Nuthatches enjoy the blocks of suet, while the California Towhees and Oregon Juncos help clear the ground of seeds we either placed or spilled.


Male American Goldfinch exhibiting spring plumage in the backyard. They look like this in my yard for about a month before migrating north at the end of April. When they return at the end of September, their plumage has changed to a drab shade of yellowish-brown, in anticipation of winter.


A Bewick’s Wren at the peanut feeder on an early fall morning. The Bewick’s Wren is distinguished by its long beak, white eye streak, and long, 45-degree tail.


A pair of Chestnut-Backed Chickadees at the suet feeder. They remain in our yard all year.

A small fountain that recirculates water will also bring wildlife into your yard, especially at this time of year when other water sources are scarce. Every day, we see all sorts of birds visit the fountain, from Anna’s Hummingbirds to Wild Turkeys. My wife, Lori, makes me chase the turkeys out of her garden, but I usually don’t do so until they’ve had a drink (do not tell her…)!


A rare visitor to our yard, a male Western Tanager visits our fountain for a drink during spring migration.

Obviously, having some trees, shrubs, and flowers around helps attract birds and offers them places to safely perch and possibly nest. A berry-laden pyracantha bush attracts all sorts of birds, from White-Crowned Sparrows to California Quails.


An American Robin in our pyracantha bush in autumn. Robins are occasional visitors to our yard and usually arrive in small flocks.


Cedar Waxwings are seldom-seen winter and spring visitors to the Pyracantha bush, also arriving in flocks. The tips of their tails look like they’ve been dipped in yellow paint.

My family and I love watching the birds that visit our backyard. They are sometimes colorful and always interesting. If you add a birdhouse or three, you may provide a safe nesting place for spring hatchlings, although there are no guarantees.

For years, we’ve had one to two sets of Western Bluebird eggs hatch in our bluebird house. This spring we watched baby titmice being raised in the bluebird house. A week after they flew the coop, the bluebirds moved in and they are now raising six babies of their own. In a different bluebird house, we watched a pair of House Wrens raise five babies.


One of the many broods of Western Bluebirds raised in our bluebird house.


A male Western Bluebird brings dinner to the babies.


A fledgling Western Bluebird is ready to leave the nest, but still wants to be fed by its mother.

But, beware, you don’t always get what you intended from the birdhouses you put up. Sometimes, nothing moves in. Other times, something you didn’t expect does move in. We put a Northern Flicker house on the side of a tree and now a family of squirrels lives in it (we love the squirrels, so this is a good thing)!


“Hey! That’s not a Northern Flicker in the Flicker house!”

We had another birdhouse absconded by a swarm of bees that lived in it for two years. I was in the yard when a cloud of bees just flew in and picked a birdhouse to move into. The next day, they moved, switching to a birdhouse five feet away. We worked out a relationship in which we left the bees alone and they, in turn, left us alone.


Swarm of bees trying to get cool on a hot summer afternoon in our backyard. Unless it’s unusually hot, the bees tend to stay inside the birdhouse where the hive is or fly around just outside of it. In two years, nobody was ever stung.

For additional interest, we have several old birdcages with the cage doors wired open (that’s very important because we don’t want the birds to get trapped or scared). We place birdseed in the birdcages and then watch the birds climb right into the cages and grab the food.


A Scrub Jay perches on the door of an old birdcage, eying the peanuts inside.

Depending on the habitat surrounding your home, you may have different birds on hand. Oakland has many different habitats, ranging from shoreline to urban to suburban to hills and forests. If you’re interested in attracting birds, you might consult a local birdseed dealer, so you purchase the houses, feeders, and food most suitable for your local environment.

While you can enjoy birds in your yard throughout the day, the best time to watch is shortly after dawn and around sunset, when the birds are most active. I’ve been doing this for years and this spring I saw two species of birds that I’ve never seen before, coming to the fountain at dawn. So, you never know when something unusual will happen. That’s part of what makes watching birds enjoyable.

Once you successfully bring the birds into your yard, your neighbors can benefit from watching them, as well. They might even choose to participate, like my neighbors have. That just makes it better for everyone involved.

Keeping Oakland Beautiful is everybody’s business.

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