Look Beyond Bird Feeders

Last Updated on October 9, 2020 by Nancie

Palm Warbler on a tree branch
Palm Warbler

There are many backyard birds that don’t come to feeders. But you might see them if you watch for them. Look beyond bird feeders!

During winter months, most bird action in my yard is at the feeders. Birds also look under leaves and in bark crevices for bugs or searching for natural sources of seed or fruit. But none of these things is as abundant in the cold months. So for many birds that stay around here through the winter, the feeders become the center of activity.

But come spring, there are more and more things for birds to eat. While they still happily come to feeders, many can also be seen in other places in the yard.

Sparrows who up until now were mostly found under feeders are searching for seed and bugs in the grass (or what passes for grass in my yard.) Or they are up in the trees that are now leafing out. Some birds are getting nectar from flowering plants or finding insects attracted to the flowers. And there are all kinds of really interesting spring migrants coming through that don’t come to feeders at all.

Just in the past week, I have seen four interesting spring birds come through the yard. Most stay for a few hours or a day, but they are always exciting to see. I had to look beyond the feeders to see them.

Ruby-Crowned Kinglet on a vine covered tree
Ruby-Crowned Kinglet

Ruby-Crowned Kinglet

One day our spring visitor was a Ruby-Crowned Kinglet, flitting about in a tall skinny tree covered in grape vine near our garage. This tree is popular with both visiting birds and our local Tufted Titmouses and Carolina Chickadees. (Native trees and native vines attract the insects that our native birds like to eat!)

Kinglets have a distinctive way of moving around in a tree, searching for tasty insects. They seem to be almost constantly on the move. They will work a tree branch, zip unexpectedly over to another and then another, come back to the first, moving around in unpredictable ways. I was on my way to an appointment the day I saw this one, so didn’t get a picture of him. (The picture above was taken in the same tree last fall.)

Blue-Gray Gnatcatcher in a tree
Blue-Gray Gnatcatcher

Blue-Gray Gnatcatcher

On another day, we were pleased to see a pair of Blue-Gray Gnatcatchers flitting around up in the tree tops. They moved from the top of the ever popular pine in the back yard to the grape vine covered tree and back. Quick little birds that move around in the trees very busily, they are still not quite as frantically as kinglets. (I did get a few pictures of the gnatcatchers but they weren’t great. The picture above is from last spring at Patuxent Research Refuge North Tract.)

Palm Warbler on the driveway
Palm Warbler

Palm Warbler

Another pleasant surprise was the visit of one or maybe two Palm Warblers. The first day I saw it, I was looking out my back window. I saw two American Robins running around in the grass of our neighbor’s back yard. Looking more closely, I saw a third bird moving around in a similar way, but this one was smaller and yellowish.

When I got out my binoculars, I could see it was a Palm Warbler, the first I think I’ve seen in our yard (well, almost in our yard.) A couple days later, we saw the same bird or another one running along the grass next to our driveway. Unlike many warblers, they are often found on the ground searching for insects, which makes them easier to photograph!

Yellow-Rumped Warbler on a tree branch
Yellow-Rumped Warbler

Yellow-Rumped Warbler

On the same day, we saw several Yellow-Rumped Warblers zipping around in the tree tops, mostly in a tall pine. The temperature had turned quickly from more normal spring temperatures to the upper 80’s. So the tree pollen was very thick. Birds would land on a pine branch and a cloud of pollen would puff up. I’ve read that there are insects that eat pollen, so I’m thinking that there were lots of insects up there to attract the birds.

As well as the warblers zipping around the branches, there were also several Chipping Sparrows, a female Red-Winged Blackbird and a couple of Carolina Chickadees moving around in the tree. This made it even trickier to keep track of the warblers. (The above photo is from last fall in the vine-covered tree.)

Red-Tailed Hawk

Yesterday’s unexpected visitor was a Red-Tailed Hawk. While they are year-round in our area, the more typical backyard hawks are Cooper’s Hawks. (Although a few winters ago, we had a Red-Shouldered Hawk hunting birds in the yard regularly.) The Red-Tailed Hawk apparently killed a Common Grackle at a feeder in the front yard. That is actually part of an interesting story that I’ll save for another day though.

Look Beyond Bird Feeders!

When you are outside your home, don’t just stare at the feeder area when looking for birds. Pay attention to what is going on in other areas nearby. This time of year in particular, you may see various warblers moving around, often up high, in the trees. If you watch birds in your yard often, you probably have developed a good idea of how the regulars move. When a new bird arrives, you will likely notice them because they’ll move a little differently. Or something about their color or their size or where they are sitting may catch your eye. Keep watching and you are likely to see some very cool birds!


Learn More About These Birds:

All About Birds Site:

Ruby-Crowned Kinglet

Blue-Gray Gnatcatcher

Palm Warbler

Yellow-Rumped Warbler

Red-Tailed Hawk

Learn More About Backyard Birds

Maryland Backyard Birds

Spring Backyard Birds

Summer Backyard Birds

Winter Backyard Birds: Birds in a Winter Storm

Backyard Birds on a Damp Day

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