The nice thing about so-called “backyard birds” is that they are everywhere. No matter how urban our surroundings are or how far we are from the wilderness, they are usually only a few meters away.
It is the birds in the trees right outside our windows or in the bushes beside the city streets that we are most likely to hear when we are out in our normal business or even in our own four walls.
Whitney Neufeld-Kaiser, a bird watcher from West Washington who teaches how to identify birds through song, said learning to know birds by ear “added a whole new dimension to everyday life.”
Here are nine backyard birds heard in Seattle and the Pacific Northwest this spring, plus some commentary from Neufeld-Kaiser.
Pine siskin (Spinus pinus)
The songs and calls of the pine siskin often contain a long “zip” call, the pitch of which keeps rising. This resident passerine (a bird with feet to crouch) is one of the most vulnerable individuals suffering a deadly salmonella outbreak in the northwestern United States, causing officials to leave the feed until at least April.
Gold crown sparrow (Zonotrichia atricapilla)
Her song is a series of purely flute-like whistle notes. Some people use the phrase “oh dear me” to help them remember this. This bird is now starting to sing, but it will sing more fully when it goes north to breed in May.
Chickadee with chestnut back (Poecile rufescens)
These adorable little birds sound a lot like their close relatives, the black-capped tit. But they tend to sound a bit more whistle and have a higher pitch when calling “Chickadee”. This is one of my shots where both black cap and chestnut backed chickadees are together for a nice comparison. They sat on our suet feeders and called.
Red-breasted nuthatch (Sitta canadensis) These cuties make charming nose beeps. They are the focus of the Audubon project “Climate Watch”.
Northern Flicker (Colaptes auratus)
These birds have a very charming reputation that plays a role in advertising, which sounds like “Wicka, Wicka, Wicka”. It’s a call made by both men and women when at least two, often three or four flickers interact. And it can be accompanied by a head-shaking courtship dance.
House finch (Haemorhous mexicanus)
Her song is a melodious, seething, happy mess of exuberant notes. You’re not singing at full blast yet, but stick with it.
California sCrub Jay (Aphelocoma californica)
These corvids are becoming increasingly common in Seattle as their range extends north. In Washington, the breeding population extends into Counties King, Skagit, and Snohomish.
Steller’s Jay (Cyanocitta stelleri)
Our native Jay is seen more and more in the cities. Its reputation can sometimes be described as an abrasive.
But it is also known to make an excellent imitation of a red-tailed buzzard.
Song sparrow (Melospiza melody)
Your name is well deserved: your songs start with a few fixed, definitive notes and then fall through a series of hums, trills, and whistles.
How Song Sparrows use their song to warn of invading Song Sparrows has been studied by researchers from the University of Washington.