The birds are calling. And, in this springtime of social distancing, answering those sweet chirps and boisterous squawks seems like a pretty good idea. Birding, after all, can be accomplished right in your own backyard—or, feel free to venture (six feet apart, of course) to the closest trails and reservoirs to discover different varieties of feathered friends. Here are a few tidbits on transforming cooped-up feelings into a new, nature-centric hobby.
Bird-Spotting for the Novice
Utah is graced with a multitude of bird species due to a unique migration pattern, courtesy of massive water sources (a.k.a. stopping grounds for traveling birds), such as the Great Salt Lake and Utah Lake. “Within a four-hour driving radius, you can see more than 300 types of birds,” says avid birder Nate Brown, who coordinates the local annual Christmas Bird Count. According to Brown, novices and experts are likely to spy several species without exerting too much effort.
- Grab a field guide (Brown recommends Sibley’s), a pair of binoculars (if you have some handy), and quietly focus on whichever species fly past your window or beside you on a trail.
- Morning is ideal for bird-spotting, but many can be sighted throughout the day. Obviously, nocturnal creatures, such as owls, are best seen (and mostly heard) at dusk or night.
What You May Spy
At the Feeder
Regulars to the bird feeder include: house finches, Cassin’s finches, American goldfinches, and lesser goldfinches as well as two types of chickadees (black-capped and mountain). Woodpeckers, including the red-headed Northern flicker, are drawn to suet and birdseed, too. Though grosbeak sightings are typically rare, Brown notes that they’ve been spotted by the hundreds in the Pinebrook area this spring. In the latter part of spring and into summer, a good hummingbird feeder—or native flowers—can draw four different types of the quick-winged species to your neighborhood: black-chinned (purple throat), broad-tailed (reddish throat), Rufous (orange-brick, full-body color for the males), and Calliope (the smallest in North America and rare). Of course, the raucous magpie is likely to snack from your feeder, too.
Spotting beyond the Backyard
On the trails, keep an eye out for the mountain bluebird and the ruffed or dusky grouse—pheasant-looking birds, whose males have a tendency to puff up their chests and put on a show during mating season. For a special outing, time an excursion to the Henefer Lek (East Canyon) to view the greater sage grouse’s impressive display.
Near marshland and water, keep an eye (and ear) out for red-winged blackbirds and a variety of waterfowl (ducks), particularly the red-hued cinnamon teal. Towering sandhill cranes as well as gray-blue herons and Canada goose also frequent meadows and golf courses—often nesting near ponds.
Birds of prey, who might be spotted circling the skies or near your backyard feeder (possibly to snack on the aforementioned finches), include the common red-tailed hawk, Cooper’s hawk, or sharp-shinned hawk. Look for turkey vultures and ospreys, too; the large black-and-white birds build nests on platforms located near reservoirs and on local golf courses. Bald eagles winter in the area, and tend to be sighted near the Weber River, scavenging roadkill on I-80 as well as fish caught by others. Golden eagles and several species of owls call the Wasatch home, too.
How to Attract Birds to Your Yard (and Protect Them)
As Brown says, “Give birds space, provide food and a good habitat.” Here are a few pointers:
- Try different types of birdseed in feeders—and keep them full and fresh. Don’t forget to hang some beloved suet, too.
- Make your own hummingbird food (one part granulated sugar to four parts water), and use a feeder with a ring or platform on it, so the birds are encouraged to sit as they sip. Be sure to change the food every couple of days so it doesn’t go stale.
- Add a birdbath to the backyard and keep the water fresh.
- Plant and preserve native flowers and plants, which will attract native and migrating birds.
- Put decals on large windows, so birds don’t crash into them.
- Keep bird feeders out of feline reach.
- Avoid the use of pesticides.
Enlist a Guide or Go Virtual
When Covid-19 guidelines allow a return to normalcy, be sure to check out Swaner Nature Preserve’s (swanerecocenter.org) Avian Adventures. In the meantime, catch a webinar (on a variety of topics—not just birds), or take a “Virtual Nature Walk” with a Swaner guide every Thursday from 12:30 p.m. to 1 p.m. via Instagram and Facebook.
And for literary fans, check out Terry Tempest Williams’ book, Refuge, which dives into themes of family and nature—including Utah’s migrating birds.