Backyard Bird Visitors 2012 — Part I

I’ve always been an animal lover and particularly fond of birds. This post features five birds who live in or are frequent visitors to my backyard.

Since birds live in many environments and can fly in and out of any location, they are easy animals to spot — although they aren’t necessarily easy to photograph. The 14x zoom on my new Nikon Coolpix S8200 camera and their awesome editing program have made it possible to snap pictures from a distance, which has shown me that I have a lot more bird species in my backyard than I thought. However, while I’ve gotten some good results, I’m still an amateur in both photography and bird identification — but I sure am having fun with it!  I hope you are enjoying the results as well.


The Northern Mockingbird

Mockingbirds are year-round residents here in New Jersey. When we moved here, the trees in our yard were smaller. Mockingbird males prefer high perches as their singing venues, and one chose our chimney as his stage — a bit of an annoyance when he began his concert in the wee hours of the morning. Now that we have a number of trees higher than the house, my husband no longer grumbles about the early morning singing.

Mockingbird at the backyard breakfast bar (a volunteer mulberry tree), May 22


I’ve always loved mockingbirds, with their loud, clear voices, perky attitude, and constantly changing song. I learned to identify mockingbirds years ago and consider them old friends.

Mockingbird with fluffed feathers, June 25


I snapped a series of photos of one mockingbird grooming itself in the mulberry tree on June 25.







The Eastern Phoebe

The Eastern phoebe looks a lot like a mockingbird. We’ve probably had them around for years and I just thought they were mockingbirds. As I sorted the photos I’d taken, I realized that this bird didn’t quite look like a mockingbird. I checked my bird books and online, but since it didn’t quite match any of the photos I saw, I asked a birder friend for an identification. He identified it as an Eastern phoebe. This bird has a grayer chest than most of the photos I’ve seen of the species, but I’ll take his word for it. (If birds would all look exactly alike, they’d be so much easier to identify!)

June 25

Phoebes belong to the flycatcher family — anything that catches flies is okay by me — and are warm-weather friends who head south in the fall.

June 25


The American Robin

Robins are another common and easily identified bird that have long been a favorite of mine.I had thought robins ate only insects, but like many other birds, they’ve enjoyed the bounty of the volunteer mulberry tree.

May 22


Fledgling robins are easily identifiable, and it’s fun watching the parents scurry back and forth to feed the offspring that are as big as the parents but can’t yet feed themselves.

The parent lands with a mulberry for the young robin, June 12


On a drizzly June 12, a couple of young robins perched in the branches of some trees my husband had cut down. They remained for nearly a half hour, giving me a great opportunity to photograph them. I couldn’t believe my luck when the parent arrived with a mulberry — usually the parent feeds the young bird and leaves before I grab the camera, turn it on, focus, and take a picture.







While robins aren’t seen as often in winter here, some are year-round residents. When I see them hopping around the lawn, I hope they are eating insects instead of all my earthworms!


The European Starling

The European starling is a common, year-round resident but, as the name suggests, the starling is not a native bird. While it enjoys the berries on the mulberry tree, it also eats insects — which makes it okay in my book.

June 3


Sometimes it’s hard to identify starlings. During the breeding season, the adults have beautiful iridescent plumage. In the winter they are dull and white-speckled. The young are brown and look like another species entirely!

June 3


The Chipping Sparrow

Sparrows are another common bird that I often see in my yard. I’ve never had much luck identifying what type of sparrow I see, however. By the time I get the bird book out and leaf through the numerous pages of sparrows, the bird is gone and I don’t remember the details well enough to identify it. That’s where a photograph and the camera’s editing program provide a real advantage.

In early June, I saw a sparrow in the grass about seventy or eighty feet away from the back door and took four photos using the full zoom. The focus was poor for the first two shots, but the second two were better. Here’s the second of those two photos before cropping:

June 4


Hard to identify the bird in that photo, isn’t it? Now take a look at the cropped and edited photos:

June 4


The rusty crown, white stripe above the eye, black eye line, and white wing bars that make the identification possible are clear after cropping. (I asked my birder friend to be sure.) And, as an unexpected bonus, I’d caught the sparrow with a nice, fat grub — something not at all obvious in the original photo. How cool is that?

June 4


Chipping sparrows eat seeds as well as insects and fly to warmer climates when the weather gets cold.


Check out my previous post — Bird Pairs, Parents and Broods — for more photos of young and adult starlings and robins.

About J. Thomas Ross

Since retiring from a career as a high school English and history teacher, I've been pursuing a career as a writer. My main interest is in writing novels, but I've also written short stories and poetry and done a little editing on the side. I am currently working on a Young Adult novel. One of my poems - "Winter" - won an award at the 2010 Philadelphia Writers Conference, and you can find my fantasy short story "A Rock Is a Rock Is a Rock ... Or Is It?" in the anthology Tales of Fortannis: A Bard's Eye View, which is available in print and Kindle format from Amazon and as an e-book from Double Dragon Press.
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