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Backyard Birding

Summary: Perhaps you favor hiking through the deepest, unexplored territories of old growth forest in your search for rare birds. Or, maybe you want to test yourself braving the high-mountain territories of the American West to do your birding. I prefer to do my backyard birding on a bench in the cool shade of my own property, accompanied by sandwich and soft-drink. But, to each his own.

The urban or suburban backyard is home to a surprising variety of birds. Take a look at that grey fellow with a dark yarmulke on his head and the disconcerting habit of meowing. The catbird likes to hide in the thickets. meowing while you dig your garden. Expect him to make quick work of the cutworms you unearth. If you meow back at him he will shadow you as if to say, that's my territory, Bub. He shares our northern climes in the warm days of summer and then, it's off to South America.

See that bright red bird over there? No shock to discover that he is a Cardinal. But, did you see that pinkish or greenish bird a little bit away? That's Mrs. Cardinal nearby keeping other interested females away from her man. No rolling-pin, but her eyes miss nothing. This bird never walks or flies alone, or as part of a flock, only with its beloved.

Maybe you will see Robin Red Breast, especially when a light rain forces juicy worms to the surface. The American Robin, with his striking red breast, grey wings and back, and black head, is not at related to the European Robin, but to other thrushes like the Wood or Hermit Thrush, the two often seen hopping along the ground, sifting the leaves for ground-dwelling insects.

The Wood Thrush is an eight inch bird with a russet back and prominent brown spots on a white breast. This bird is most likely to join cousin Robin Red Breast in the local backyard or garden. His cousin the Hermit lives up to his name by abandoning the backyard to hang-out in the underbrush of mixed and coniferous forests. You can spot this gray-backed bird with less prominent spotting if you rouse yourself from the hammock for the more bracing air of a nature preserve or botanical garden.

Finches are always sure to drop by the backyard. Look for the house sparrow's near twin, the house finch. This bird mixes with the House sparrow and is often mistaken for him. Both are introduced species, the House finch from the American West and the House sparrow from England, introduced just prior to the American Civil War by a daft society dedicated to importing Shakespeare's birds to America. Who knew from invasive species? Both of these birds are finches, too. That's right; the House sparrow is not a sparrow, but a finch. The difference is in the legs. Watch as he hops down the path. Sparrows don't hop, they run.

Joining those two birds is the Goldfinch. Even when his beautiful yellow and black colors vanish during the winter, he can be spotted by his characteristic flight-path that resembles a drunken ramble.

Expect to see true sparrows in your yard, too. The most welcome visitor is the golden-voiced song sparrow, distinguishable by a large dark spot on his breast and his fabulous voice. The furtive White Crowned Sparrow visits in the winter and his even more secretive look-alike, the White Throated Sparrow comes around in the summer. You will spot these birds by the prominent white markings on their heads, followed by their abrupt disappearance into the bushes. Nothing left but a mysterious œTseep from an invisible bird.

Congratulations to all you explorers, but there's no place like home.

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