There’s never been a better time to enjoy backyard birding.
Eastern Bluebird. Photographed by Ariana van den Akker/Maine Audubon
Northern Cardinal. Photographed by Ariana van den Akker/Maine Audubon
Phoebe. Photographed by Ariana van den Akker/Maine Audubon
Dark-eyed Junco. Photographed by Ariana van den Akker/Maine Audubon
When it comes to birds, Maine is a bit of a hot spot. With its staggering variety of habitats, and strong tradition of conservation, the Pine Tree State offers a myriad of havens where avians can build nests, find food, and seek refuge from predators.
And spring is one of the best times to spot them. From now through the end of May, millions of birds are flying through Maine in search of food and warmer temperatures. They’re claiming their territories, mating, and foraging for food for their fledglings. All of that action means birds are more visible — and audible — than ever.
So there’s never been a better opportunity to get acquainted with the birds in your backyard. Happily, you don’t need extensive knowledge or fancy equipment to get started.
“There are just so many ways to enjoy the birds right now,” says Doug Hitchcox, staff naturalist at Maine Audubon. “It’s accessible to everyone.”
Here are Hitchcox’s best tips for beginning birding.
Name that song! Bird identification is as much about listening as it is about watching. The best way to get to know the birds around you is to listen to the wide variety of calls, chirps, and songs in your backyard. In this video, Hitchcox matches photos of the most common backyard birds, including the tufted titmouse, black-capped chickadee, phoebe, cardinal, red-winged blackbird, and common grackle, with their signature sounds.
Put out some seed. Birds can be difficult to see, even with a pair of binoculars. That’s where birdseed comes in handy. “Getting a feeder is one of the few ways that the birds are going to fly to you,” Hitchcox says. Black oil sunflower seeds attract the widest variety of birds. You can get it pre-shelled, which is easier for birds to eat and makes less of a mess underneath the feeder. If you’d like to attract larger birds, like blue jays, red-winged blackbirds, and dark-eyed juncos, put out cracked corn. If you’re in the Falmouth area, the Maine Audubon Nature Store is offering curbside pickup for birdseed sales.
Plant native. One of the best ways to ensure lots of bird activity in your backyard is to plant native flowers, trees, and shrubs, which host the insects that birds feed on. Because these plants have evolved to thrive in Maine’s soils and habitats, they require less maintenance, less watering, and fewer additives, like pesticides, herbicides, and fertilizers. Click here for Maine Audubon’s Native Plant Finder to learn more about which plants to put in your garden and where to find them.
Get some (free!) tools. There are tons of easy-to-use resources to help you learn about the birds flocking to your yard. The Cornell Lab of Ornithology has a free app called Merlin Bird ID that helps you identify birds by answering a few basic questions about color, size, and location. The Maine Birding Trail site offers an easy-to-use map of birding hot spots around the state. To learn more about the birds migrating through Maine this spring, search Maine Audubon’s #migratorybirdaday on Instagram.