Birds are everywhere! Their beauty, songs, and ability to fly have inspired artists, poets, and philosophers ever since people could draw and write. When you look outside, do you wonder about what you see?
Ballentine Library sits on several acres, much of it woods, and has beautiful huge windows. This makes it a perfect spot for bird watching! Especially with our addition of three bird feeders and a bird bath. We miss you all in this time of self-isolation and social distancing and we definitely hope to see you once we re-open! Until then, I encourage you to explore your own backyard. And what better way to do that than to observe the creatures flying, crawling, and prowling about? I'm going to focus on the most common of our native birds and how to identify them. I shall also share some fantastic resources so you can identify nearly any bird that visits your backyard.
I've broken this down into several sections: Birds You Find on Feeders, Birds You See on the Ground, and Birds That Hang Out in Trees. However, please be aware that birds will surprise you and you'll find any of these birds in any of these places! All of the birds listed here are ones you can find year-round in South Carolina.
Birds You Find on Feeders
At Ballentine Library, we have several bird feeders. Year-round, we have out two feeders: one is a squirrel-buster tube feeder (that our squirrels have yet to figure out!) and the other is a platform feeder. During the fall and winter months, we put out a suet feeder. And in the spring and summer, we put out a hummingbird feeder.
Our tube feeder is filled with Black Oil Sunflower seeds. Our platform feeder is also filled with Black Oil Sunflower seeds, but we set out treats occasionally, like unsalted nuts or fresh cut fruit. The suet feeder is filled with a variety of suet. The hummingbird feeder is filled with a simple solution of 1 part white cane sugar to 4 parts water. (Note: never use red dye or anything but white cane sugar for your hummingbird feeder... see the resource list at the bottom of this post for more information.)
If you've never had a bird feeder in your yard and have decided to get one (YAY! Thank you so much for helping our avian friends!), don't be discouraged if you don't have many visitors at first. It can take 1 or 2 weeks for the local birds to find your feeder. Once they do, though, you'll have plenty to watch!
The most common birds to visit our tube and platform feeders are: (click the name of each bird to explore more about them at All About Birds)
Birds that forage on the ground are often looking for insects, worms, or fallen seeds. I've even observed a Carolina Wren tearing chunks off of a mushroom! They prefer being on or close to the ground with plenty of nearby shelter, in the form of bushes, tangles of vines, and the like.
If you watch them closely, you can see them turning over leaves and flipping up pieces of bark or digging into rotten wood. Sometimes, you might even see them clearing a bit of warm sand and spreading their wings and tail feathers out - both for a little bit of sun and to have a dust bath, which helps rid them of parasites. What other behaviors can you observe and why do you think they're doing them?
Our most common ground-feeding birds are: (click the name of each bird to explore more about them at All About Birds)
If you're a small bird and you're mostly hanging out in trees, you are most likely an insect-eater. If you're a larger bird, you're most likely a predator looking for your next mammal or bird snack.
The raptors (hawks, owls, eagles, etc) sometimes perch near bird feeders because it's a quick and easy buffet. If you have one that is persistently near your bird feeder, bring your feeder inside for a week or so. The hawk will most likely move on to a better feeding ground and you can put your feeder back out. Your other birds will return within a few days.
The smaller insect-eaters like a variety of habitats. Some, such as Phoebes, like to perch on branches at the edge of a thicket or forest overlooking a meadow. The various types of woodpeckers generally need dead trees to thrive. Most of these birds will enjoy eating from a suet feeder, too.
Some of the most common of these birds are: (click the name of each bird to explore more about them at All About Birds)
If you want to identify birds with your phone, download an app called Merlin - a very easy app: it will ask you five simple questions and give you several suggestions for you to look at that are specific to your area and the time of year
If you want to identify bird songs with your phone, you can try SongSleuth - this one takes some practice and is less useful in loud environments like cities, but I've used it with some success