Birds in my backyard

during the pandemic, I turned my attention to our avian neighbors

This is my sketch of what is supposed to be a tree sparrow

I’ve been taking photographs of Colorado birds for a few years and I’ve run into a sort of cul-de-sac as far as the frequency of finding and photographing new birds species. So when I do find new species to photograph, it is a big deal. And at the same time, it infuses energy and renewed enthusiasm to continue to learn about birds through the use of photography and observation.

Recently I visited my son in Virginia and I was anxious to see what type of birds I would find by looking in the confined space of a single backyard. I came across this idea while I was staying at home during the pandemic. Since I was going out much less, I thought it would be a good idea to see how many species of birds visited my backyard. Initially, I thought I would find anywhere between 10 and 15 different species. This was based on my memory of what I had observed throughout the last 10 years. In the end, I stopped observing when I reached 22 birds species.

Most of the birds were the usual suspects; the birds I see daily, such as house finches, house sparrows, and morning doves. Then there were the birds that show up in large groups but with less frequency, such as crackles, red-winged blackbirds, and starlings. Finally, there were the solo travelers such as stellar jays and northern flickers. Of the 22 birds I recorded, there were no new species that I have not already documented, but there were a couple of rare backyard appearances such as cliff swallows, pine siskins, and lesser goldfinches.

In my son’s Virginia backyard, I found 16 species in only 4 days. There were a few birds that I have not encountered in Colorado (yet) such as fox sparrows, Carolina wrens, and northern mockingbirds.

I did not take photos of all the birds. Some of them I could not even see. Instead, I recorded their songs. The application I use is BirdNet. It records the sounds of birds and identifies the species. If I cannot detect a bird visually, I use this app, and if I get three readings of highly likely, I consider that to be a correct identification.

During the summer a mysterious disease was killing songbirds across the eastern United States. Birds with crusty eyes and neurological damage were found in nine states and Washington, D.C. Even though no birds in Colorado had been affected by the disease, the number of birds visiting my bird feeder dwindled. I wondered if the birds, just like us humans, had suffered from some type of deadly virus. But slowly, in the fall, the finches and sparrows returned. There was not much of a verity for a while but in January, I started seeing dark-eyed juncos, black-cap chickadees, and towees. The world is back in order.

Nature seems to be as resilient as the Coronavirus. I expect the pandemic to end at a certain point. And when that happens, I will not turn away from the birds. I will continue to observe, photograph take notes, and be amazed by the world of birds. In a way that I cannot totally understand, observing birds provides comfort and enjoyment for me. Watching them go about their routines gives me a sense of normalcy. Normalcy is not what I see when I turn my attention to the rest of the world. So in a way, watching birds is a low-cost, high-quality mental therapy for me.

Before this day is over, I will take my camera, pen, and notepad out to my backyard and continue to observe. And if I am patient enough, magic will happen.



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Thomas Holt Russell

Thomas Holt Russell


Humanist, educator, writer, photographer, and modern-day Luddite. My writing is a living organism.