Nature Nearby:
A series of tips for enjoying nature close to home

Entry #1: Backyard Birding

Tips and photos by Lakes Environmental Association’s Mary Jewett.

Yellow-rumped warblers are among the colorful migratory birds that pass through Maine woodlands come May.

Lucky for us, given the restrictions on life as we once knew it, it is spring—the time of year when dramatic changes in the natural world can be observed from a window. One of the most rewarding signs of renewal to witness is the surge in bird activity. Studying feathered friends in your yard or neighborhood, whether they are returning migratory birds or year-round residents, may be just the thing to help you stave off that impending case of cabin fever.

We are fortunate in the Sebago watershed and downstream towns to have plentiful and varied bird habitat that supports hundreds of different bird species. All you really need to enjoy watching this bounty of birds is some time, a view of the outdoors, and a sense of curiosity. But this is a great time to get to know the birds as more than just part of the scenery. Below are some tools that can help you delve into the captivating world of backyard birding. Tag #keepsebagoclean on Instagram or Facebook when you post about your avian explorations!

Feeders. If you don’t have cats in the vicinity, a bird feeder is an excellent way to observe birds. All types of sunflower seeds and millet are a good choice for backyard visitors. And now is the time to put out oranges to attract Baltimore orioles and gray catbirds. Cut the fruit in half and nail it to something outside. If you live in an apartment, or don’t have a yard, try a feeder that attaches to your window with suction cups.

Gray catbirds and Baltimore orioles are attracted to oranges.

Guides. There are many hard-copy bird guides to choose from. The Sibley Field Guide to Birds of Eastern North America is a long-time favorite of birders because of its ease of use and comprehensiveness. In addition to selecting a book that focuses on Eastern or Northeastern birds, other considerations to keep in mind are portability (i.e., size and weight) and whether you prefer photos or illustrations.

Apps. In lieu of, or in addition to, a paper guide, there are several handy phone apps. Both the Audubon Bird Guide and Merlin Bird ID apps are free and allow you to enter features of the bird you are seeing and then narrow down what it might be. The Sibley Birds app with its lovely illustrations and birdsongs is a $20 well spent.

Looking. You will benefit from a good pair of binoculars to get a closer look at the birds’ appearance and behavior. This Audubon article sifts through some options based on your budget. The Nikon 8×42 Monarch 5 are a popular model in the “good value” category. Pro tip: You can hold your phone camera up to one of the binoculars’ lenses and get a fairly decent circle-shaped, enlarged photo of the bird you’re spying on.

Red-winged blackbirds return to Maine in early spring and nest in marshy habitats.

Listening. Learning the songs and calls of different birds can help you identify ones in the area that you can’t see and also help you locate a particular bird. The more often you see and hear a bird, the more apt you are to associate the bird with its unique sounds. The Cornell Lab of Ornithology has thorough guidance on how to go about learning bird songs, as well as bird sound recordings that accompany each of its bird ID profiles.

Documenting. If you’re the kind of person who likes to keep records, consider starting an eBird account. Another outstanding offering from the Cornell Lab, it allows you to share your sightings and also see what other birders are observing in your area, or anywhere in the world for that matter.

Web cams. Finally, if you can’t find your own birds or you’re bored with that Zoom meeting you’re on, here are some of our favorite bird cams: