current issue web exclusives blog multimedia archive subscribe advertisers
Feature Articles
Editor's Note
Audubon View
Inbox
Field Notes
Audubon In Action
Journal
Earth Almanac
Audubon Living
Green Guru
Reviews
One Picture

Bookmark and Share

Special Pullout Poster
Backyard Birding: Eastern North America
The birds your kids see out the kitchen window could end up being their friends for life.

 

David Allen Sibley, heir-apparent to Roger Tory Peterson in introducing Americans to their avian neighbors, has created this wonderful poster of some of our most familiar species. These are the birds we grew up with, glimpsed while peering out the dining room window or when walking with a somewhat knowledgeable relative in a nearby park. Perhaps there was access to a slender bird guide so that when we compared a certain black bird, marked by a splash of bright red on the shoulders, with the appropriate illustration in the book, its name could be spelled out: red-winged blackbird!

“Backyard” is an elastic term. It may be stretched to include a tree-lined neighborhood street or a vacant lot. Even better for finding favorite species are nearby places often shunned by “indoor people”—a swamp or marsh on the edge of town, or a murky river running through it.

Birdwatchers are never bored. No matter where their travels take them on this continent, they are bound to spot familiar species, or ones that by plumage or voice announce their close relationship to old acquaintances at home. There is a satisfying resonance to renewed contact with any bird. Each encounter may bring back pleasant memories of earlier sightings—in other periods and places, rekindling distinct emotional states of an earlier time.

There is no off-season for backyard birdwatchers, no interval when the landscape is empty of birds. Instead, there’s a seasonal procession, a mix of residents and migrants (or individuals pushed from elsewhere by weather upsets) to keep a lookout for. A northerner’s summer birds are often winter species in the South.

The season turns, and the winter species desert our feeders, perhaps to nest as summer residents in Canada. The swallows return to Omaha and Schenectady as well as to Capistrano. Even the “first robin of spring” may be an imposter that has skulked in a park or neighborhood thicket all winter, scraping by on dried berries.

As time passes, the procession of the seasons becomes cyclic. We know the birds will return, as surely as tides make their appointed rounds and trees put forth their buds. The singer we hear in the woods is no longer a stranger but calls up images from past springs. Other ears than ours have listened, and thus deepened the experience for us. We hear Walt Whitman’s hermit thrush, whose song is “the wondrous chant of the gray-brown bird,” or Robert Frost’s ovenbird, “who makes the solid tree trunks sound again.”

Yes, Sibley’s Backyard Birds stand in for the whole of our continent’s birdlife, while also providing a manageable foundation for anyone who struggles to sort out the forms and colors that help us distinguish among species. These are the birds of our own environment, promising a lifetime of pleasure and knowledge as we move out into a wider world.

Click on the image below for Sibley’s poster featuring backyard birds found in eastern North America. (For a poster of backyard birds found in western North America, click here.)

Back to Top