Backyard Birding on the Rise Amid Safer-at-Home Measures

those stuck at home are turning to backyard birding as a new indoor hobby

By Jonny Lupsha, Wondrium Staff Writer

People stuck at home are turning to bird-watching to break up the boredom, NPR reported. In an interview with a reporter, a Cornell Labs ornithologist said her inbox has been flooded with people asking for help identifying birds. Your experience may vary based on where you live.

Close up of binoculars in hand
With so much time spent at home these days, more people are bird-watching in their neighborhoods. Photo By Yuriy Seleznev / Shutterstock

According to a recent NPR program, coronavirus lockdowns have caused some people to seek new indoor hobbies. “We’re kind of stuck in this routine, even myself included, where the days are melding into one, and we’re trying to find things that mark the time,” said Viviana Ruiz Gutierrez, Research Scientist at Cornell Lab of Ornithology. “And so I think when you start birdwatching, it kind of really takes us from ourselves.”

Of course, many factors will determine what you see when you look out the window. The time of year, the climate, and the geographical location all play a part in what the amateur birder can expect to see.

When Location Matters

Different kinds of birds favor different parts of the world. When discussing animal habitats, one of the most common terms refers to its “biome,” which is like a habitat in a broader sense.

“A biome is a broad geographical area with distinct animal and plant groups that are adapted for that particular environment,” said James Currie, host of Nikon’s Birding Adventure TV. “Climate, geography, and soil type are some important factors that dictate where one biome ends and another begins. Biomes in North America include grasslands, desert, coniferous forest, deciduous forest, tropical rain forest, chaparral, and tundra.”

What happens when one biome meets another? The transition zone between them is called an ecotone. Currie said that ecotones can be gradual, like a woodland blending into a grassland; or they can be sudden, like the “clear boundary” between an agricultural field and a forest. Ecotones are often very rich in biodiversity because they house species from both habitats as well as certain species of bird like blue jays that benefit from being on the border.

Your location in a certain biome or ecotone will help narrow down your search for types of bird species.

The Six Habitats of North America

For the most part, Currie said, the United States and Canada are divided up into six habitats: woodlands or forests, grasslands, deserts, sagebrush, chaparral, and tundra. Each one has a short list of common birds to spot.

“Deciduous forests are home to many species of songbirds, especially warblers, as well as turkeys, owls, hawks, and woodpeckers,” Currie said. “Conifer forests hold many specialist species that depend almost entirely on this habitat type for survival.”

Conifer forest species include crossbills, pine siskins, boreal owls, great grey owls, and northern goshawks. Grasslands, also called prairies, are scattered throughout the United States. They’re home to the Henslow’s sparrow, the greater prairie chicken, the bobolink, and the western meadowlark.

Residents of desert areas like the Sonoran Desert of southwestern Arizona and southeastern California should keep an eye out for the Harris’s hawk and the Gambel’s quail, while the Mojave is home to thrashers, the Scott’s oriole, and the Costa’s hummingbird.

“Sagebrush is a sensitive environment that is at risk of being overrun by other plants, destroyed by development, and out-of-control fires,” Currie said. “Some birds rely on this particular habitat type and this is often reflected by the common names of these birds, like sage thrasher, sage sparrow, and two different species of sage grouse.”

The final two habitats in North America are chaparral and tundra. Currie said that chaparral is like a mixture of desert, grassland, and woodland habitats, so its avian residents include the California towhee, California thrasher, and wrentit. Meanwhile, those who live in the harsh, cold, windy tundras of areas like Rocky Mountain National Park are likely to spot white-tailed ptarmigans and Arctic terns in their neck of the woods.

Regardless of which habitat you live in, there are ample opportunities for birding from home. With a birding book or app—or just a search engine—this short list of species native to each area can help you narrow your search.

James Currie contributed to this article. Currie is a safari guide with the world-renowned company Wilderness Safaris. He holds a bachelor’s degree in African Languages from the University of Cape Town and a master’s degree in Sustainable Environmental Management from Middlesex University London.