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  • Writer's pictureJennifer Ann Richter

Operation Backyard Birds

Bird seed—check

Feeders—check (including a shiny new one)

Suet cakes—check

Cages for suet cakes—sorta check (I need to replace a stolen one. Yeah, I'm looking at you, raccoon.)

Okay, I think I’m all set. For now, at least. I’ll be buying refills for sure, since Project FeederWatch ( runs from November 14 to April 9.

This will be my third time around. Over the past two seasons I’ve counted—get this—27 different bird species visiting my yard. 27! Who would’ve thought? I mean, I’m really into birds and I’ve seen quite a few in my life, but I never thought so many different kinds would show up at my house. And this in the cold season!

I really look forward to the juncos. They come down from Canada, although I did find out some stay year round in the mountains around here. They’re slate-colored with white tummies and short pink beaks, and they like to feed on the seeds that fall to the ground. Since they enjoy hanging out together, I usually see at least four at one time.

Of course, birds hang out at my place year round, 2020 being no exception. They’ve been a constant amid all the ups and downs (or downs and more downs) of this year, and watching them—whether on nature walks or through my window—has been a good respite. My backyard birding highlight so far has been an indigo bunting. I’ve only rarely seen indigo buntings out on nature walks, and never had one visit my feeder. I got a half-decent photo and even made an attempt to draw it after taking a free bird drawing class online. I also had a couple of huge visitors to some nearby trees: a pileated woodpecker and a red-shouldered hawk. Unfortunately the hawk’s been coming more and more. Probably sees my feeder station as a buffet (I found feathers on the ground not too long ago). I try not to get upset because a hawk’s a bird and a bird’s gotta eat. I just wish he or she would do it elsewhere.

Indigo Bunting Safflower
Indigo bunting at shiny new feeder
Hawk staring down at my backyard feeders

I know a good number of you out there feed birds. Why not kick it up a notch and count them for science? You don’t even need a feeder, if that’s not your thing. Any area that has plantings and water and stuff that attracts birds could be used for the count. Go to to get the info you need. The Cornell Lab of Ornithology runs the program and is a wealth of information about birds (google them and be prepared to dive into a birding rabbit hole).

There’s a small fee to sign up for Project FeederWatch, but new participants get a nifty kit which includes instructions, a calendar, and a bird identification poster. And it’s something you can do at your own pace and schedule. You want to spend hours staring at your feeders? Go for it. You want to just check every now and then for a few minutes throughout the day? That’s fine. And just so you know, you aren’t counting every day. In fact, you’re supposed to space it out. The only rule is that you have to count two days in a row when you do decide. Last year there were times when I went weeks without counting (that was in March when the Covid panic started).

You don’t have to be a birdwatching fanatic to participate. They welcome all skill levels, as well as children. I can imagine this being a really fun activity for kids. I don’t have any, but my cats sure like helping me out! From indoors, of course.

Pepper helping me count birds

Well, I hope I’ve convinced some of you to give it a try. Okay, gotta go. I just realized I forgot the dried mealworms.

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