Today, Hillary of Mass Audubon shares the how-to on bird watching for beginners:
When my husband and I bought our house in the 'burbs, one of the first things we did was put up a bird feeder. This was long before I worked for Mass Audubon, and at the time I knew very little about birds. But I quickly fell in love with watching them come and go from our feeder. Once my daughter came along, it didn't take long for her to also become enamored. By the age of two, she could identify our most common visitors. I soon realized that bird watching is perhaps one of nature's best games. It challenges our powers of observation, it can be done almost anywhere, and every time you play you discover something new. And while it may seem intimidating (after all there are over 300 species that can regularly be found in the state), getting started is actually pretty easy if you know what the most common backyard birds are and which tools of the trade to procure.
Common Backyard Birds
Black-capped Chickadee. The Massachusetts state bird has a black cap, white cheeks, black throat, and an easy-to-remember call "chick-a-dee-dee-dee."
Tufted Titmouse. Named for the spiky tuft of feathers on its head, this grey bird with a white belly and rusty-orange flanks can be often heard singing a rapid "peter, peter, peter."
Northern Cardinal. The male cardinal is perhaps one of the easiest birds to ID thanks to its brilliant red body, pointy crest, and orange triangular beak surrounded by black feathers. Where there's a male, there's usually a female nearby, but the ladies sport a brown body with red highlights.
Blue Jay. If you hear a squawky "theef, theef," chances are it's a blue jay. One of the larger birds that will visit a feeder, blue jays have blue, white, and black bodies with a black ring around their necks. In addition to seed, they're also fans of acorns and peanuts.
American Robin. Don't look at the feeders for robins. These medium-sized birds with an orange-red breast and a dark grey head/back are more often found hopping around lawns searching for tasty worms.
Tools of the Trade
Bird feeder The Observer Window Feeder ($19.95 at the The Audubon Shop at Drumlin Farm) allows for close-up bird watching. To keep the squirrels at bay, place it in the middle of a large window away from trees, so the little rascals can't climb up the side of the house and jump into the feeder.
Seed. The best seed to attract these birds is black-oil sunflower seed. If you're worried about a mess, you can purchase just the sunflower hearts, but they're more expensive.
Field Guide. It's always handy to have a bird field guide near the feeder. For kids, The Audubon Shop recommends the pocket-sized A Guide to Backyard Birds of Eastern North America or Peterson Field Guides' The Young Birder's Guide to Birds of Eastern North America.
Image credits: All images were provided to Boston Mamas by Mass Audubon. 1) Tufted titmouse by Mia Kheyfetz (Mass Audubon); 2) Black-capped chickadee by Joy Marzolf; 3) Tufted titmouse by Ken Thomas (Mass Audubon); 4) Cardinal by Richard Johnson; 5) Blue jay by Ken Thomas (Mass Audubon); 6) Robin by Joy Marzolf.