Sunday Nature Walk: Birds in Our Own Backyard

When browsing wildlife photos and journals of birds and other animals, it’s easy to believe that the colorful and vibrant wildlife exhibited are only found in exotic locations involving hours of travel and searching. What most people don’t know is that an abundance of beautiful birds pass through — or can even take up residence — in our own backyards!

The key to attracting and harboring resident wildlife is to nurture and form an operating ecosystem. By allowing natural wildflowers to grow and avoiding the use of chemicals and pesticides, we can attract songbirds who will readily feed off insects and grass seeds and thrive.

These birds may include American robin (Turdus migratorius), American goldfinch (Spinus tristis), warblers such as the northern parula (Setophaga americana), and many others. Certain songbirds also serve as a natural means of controlling pests such as hornworms, grubs, and slugs. Why risk destroying the ecosystem when nature already has built-in pest control?

With natural grasses and plants comes flowers, and with flowers comes the ruby-throated hummingbird (Archilochus colubris). These birds will feed on both wild and garden-based flowers. This hummingbird is the only native species of its kind in New England. Males boast a dark violet throat while females and juveniles are usually uniform in color. These little birds are cute in appearance but are extremely territorial and will readily chase other hummingbirds out of their territory.

With a large variety of wild plants comes seeds and food for rodent species. Rodents pose a problem to households because they may become carriers of ticks and other unwanted pests. However, if our yard has enough tree cover and woodland, we may be lucky to find that we have a resident bird of prey.

Birds of prey come in a variety of shapes and sizes. One of the smallest and rarest, found in open-land areas, is the American kestrel (Falco sparverius) which will readily feed on voles and field mice. Its much larger fellow raptor, the red-tailed hawk (Buteo jamaicensis), tends to feed on larger prey such as squirrels and woodchucks.

Owl species are rarely seen backyard visitors and residents because of their nocturnal tendencies. Barred owls (Strix varia) will often dwell in areas with high rodent counts and wetlands. The larger great horned owl (Bubo viriginanus) can be found in backyards with wooded areas bordering fields and open meadows. The great horned can feed on large prey such as woodchucks, rabbits, and even raccoons.

Backyards in Easton and much of Connecticut have the potential to abound with wildlife. It can be very rewarding to build a mini-ecosystem right outside our back door and exciting to find an unfamiliar animal right in our own backyard. To achieve this, we have to “naturalize” our yard. This means avoiding pesticides and weed control products, as these chemicals can kill unwanted targets such as owls, songbirds, and others.

The “Pollinator Pathway,” a community-driven movement to naturalize wildlife areas throughout the northeast, can serve as a model to achieve a healthy and natural yard. The “Pollinator Pathway” has several ongoing projects in Easton. Information can be readily accessed on the website.

For those who don’t have a yard to support wildlife, Easton contains a wide variety of trails and natural areas. Explore some of Easton’s trails to find wildlife through the Aspetuck Land Trust, or explore trails throughout Connecticut at CT Woodlands.

For more nature photos, fun facts, and environmental entries, you might like to follow my nature photography instagram, @wild_new_england_ ( https://www.instagram.com/wild_new_england_/ ).

Tomas Koeck
Tomas Koeck

Koeck is a photographer and videographer. He is completing his bachelor’s degree in Communication Studies from the School of Communication, Media & the Arts at Sacred Heart University. He has worked on several stories with the non-profit Vision Project and is on the Easton Courier’s news team.  He has published in the Connecticut Audubon Society, TAMRON Optics, ESPN, and the Spectrum. He has also been featured on the prestigious Instagram wildlife photography platforms Elite Owls and Elite Raptors. He also runs a YouTube channel with over 19,000 subscribers.

He has conducted scientific research for Penn State University on invasive plant regeneration as well as field work with Dr. Kim Steiner of Penn State’s dendrology forest biology division. Koeck is also a recipient of the University of Connecticut’s Environmental Studies Award and has published species profiles for the Connecticut Audubon Society.

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